Regional Reviews: New Jersey
It's Kander and Ebb Time As The World Goes 'Round
Also see Bob's review of Bad Dates
In 1989, a musical revue featuring the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb was conceived and created by talented young theatre artists Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson for Olympia Dukakis' Whole Theatre in Montclair. The rest is history. The resultant, truly exceptional Whole Theatre production And the World Goes 'Round eventually landed in New York where it ran for over a year, then went on to tour, and, subsequently receive innumerable productions. Now, thanks to the enterprising Women's Theatre Company, The World Goes 'Round (it has lost the first word of its original title somewhere along the way) has returned to New Jersey to entertain us anew.
('Round was a follow-up to the successful 1987 Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre production of Kander and Ebb's 1965 Broadway musical >Flora, The Red Menace. Directed by Ellis, choreographed by Stroman, and with a Thompson revision of the original George Abbott-Robert Russell book, it had been revised with the participation of Kander and Ebb.)
Featuring the same song stack as its original New York production, along with the original, sometimes quirky and jazz orchestrations (albeit now for just piano and bass), 'Round continues to provide a felicitous opportunity to enjoy a substantial portion of the superb Kander and Ebb catalogue. Adding to the pleasure, the revue tends to concentrate more on the less well known of their songs.
As with its September production of Side by Side by Sondheim, Women's Theatre's 'Round owes its success to the excellent work of director-choreographer Lauren Moran Mills and Musical Director Warren Helms. With the assistance of co-choreographer Meridith Johnson, Mills keeps everything moving at a lively pace. She has provided song and dance movement which pleases the eye, is always appropriate to the material, and integrates her entire cast into the flow of a revue in which a high proportion of the numbers are performed in ensemble fashion. Musical Director/ Pianist Warren Helms (with Tim Metz on bass) performs miracles in providing sparkling, intricate accompaniment and making certain that the cast strives for the appropriate style and vocalization for each of the songs.
However, this production of 'Round does not share the brilliant success of September's Sondheim. The culprit is under-casting. For all their energy, enthusiasm and, yes, talent, several of the young cast members simply fall short of the polish and professionalism required in matters of carriage, stage movement, and/or vocal ability. The performances would satisfy in a rural summer stock theatre. However, for a metropolitan area professional production, higher standards prevail.
There is a standout, first rate performance by Emily Cara Portune. Her lovely voice, interpretations, timing, inflections and movements are flawless. Early on, Portune captures the poignant beauty of "Colored Lights" (The Act) and closes the first act with a bell ringing tour de force performance of the Liza Minnelli specialty showpiece "Ring Them Bells".
Most praiseworthy is the fine work of the very youthful Stearns Matthews. The very talented Matthews sings and moves very well. Unfortunately, there is an enormous gap between his adolescent appearance and mien, and the world weary sophistication and brittle humor of Fred Ebb's brilliant lyrics. Matthews' fine work, including a solid Mr. Cellophane (Chicago), and lead solo in the 11 o'clock number ensemble performance of the title song of Cabaret, is undermined by miscasting.
Sandy Lynn Taylor does her best work in her "The Grass is Always Greener" duet with Emily Cara Portune. Jillian Schochet nicely recalls "My Coloring Book," the hit song form Barbra Streisand's first album. Annette Coviello imparts feeling to Cabaret's "Maybe This Time." Marc G. Dalio and Danny Arnold solidly join forces to intertwine "I Don't Remember You" (The Happy Time) (Dalio) and "Sometimes a Day Goes By" (Woman of the Year) (Arnold).
Everyonecast, musicians and audiencehas a high, good time as The World Goes 'Round is brought to a rousing, highly infectious conclusion with a multi-lingual rendition of the Kander and Ebb Big Apple anthem, "New York, New York".
The World Goes 'Round continues performances (Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 3 pm) through February 27, 2011 at the Women's Theatre Company at the Parsippany Arts Center, 1130 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha. Box Office: 973-316-303 at the Women's Theatre Company at the Parsippany Arts Center, 1130 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha. Box Office:973-316-3303; online: web.me.com/baked/Womens_Theater_Co./Welcome.html.
The World Goes 'Round Music by John Kander / Lyrics by Fred Ebb / Conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, David Thompson / directed by Lauren Moran Mills