And the World Goes Round
What's in a conjunction? While the title of the musical revue of John Kander and Fred Ebb's material was And the World Goes 'Round, the song itself (and its lyric) is "But the World Goes 'Round." Point being, one presumes, that "but," which I've heard called "the saddest word in the English language," can be a harbinger of joy-killing bad news. The number, introduced in the film New York, New York, reminds us that things may be peachy or painful, but, no matter what, the world will go around and another day will come and go. Life goes on. You can't hold back the tide. And "and" seems more benign and neutral, less anxiety-provoking. So the show takes its title from the part of the lyric after the fifth use of "but": "...One day it's kicks, then it's kicks in the shins/ But the planet spins and the world goes 'round and 'round..." Some latter-day productions have sidestepped the semantics by just calling the oft-produced stage piece The World Goes 'Round. The likeable, well executed new Kritzerland studio cast album sticks with "And", but somehow loses the apostrophe in the title's last word whenever it's used. (The cover does not use the same logo and lettering seen on the earlier album/posters/sheet music covers.)
The world in question has turned more than eight thousand times since this revue opened off Broadway in 1991. A cast album was released, but... (There's that word again!) as a single-disc affair, it did not include all the numbers, and expanded the number of instruments beyond what was being actually heard in the theatre. Fewer songs, more players. Now we have a two-disc set, allowing room to include every selection audiences heard in live performances back in the day. And more. This is thanks to Kritzerland's ever-industrious Bruce Kimmel, with a strong track record of rescuing "lost" songs (trimmed from cast albums and evento the delight of fans and history houndsmaterial cut from scores before shows opened). Of course, in the case of this particular revue, the MIA material could be tracked down easily, sung by others, on tracks from cast recordings of the shows from whence they came and some non-cast recordings. But for those wanting in one place, for one price, an audio souvenir of everything they remembered from a production of the revueor who might be considering mounting or auditioning for onenow we've got that opportunity, with another fine cast, all on this double-disc delight.
Going back to the original orchestrations, for the sake of authenticity ("as originally conceived" or just as preferred), will be a plus for many and makes this new version different in instrumental voicing as well as the often different types of singers' voices and their shadings of interpretation and personality. This time around, our world of Kander and Ebb is populated with such Broadway/studio cast veterans as Christiane Noll, Jason Graae, and Brent Barrett (he's earned his K&E stripes with his own terrific solo album dedicated just to their work, also a Kimmel production, and playing Billy onstage in the Chicago revival, though he's not called on to repeat those numbers on this project).
In a revue recycling/collecting material from any songwriters' oeuvre, the songs are let loose from the shackles of original plots, characters, and contexts. That can be freeing, showing them to be more universally adaptable... or less dramatic, shorn of tension and what was at stake and built up from all that came before in the story. Some were already self-contained stories within themselves, and survive similarly when plucked. Others must (and do) become more "entertainment" presentations. Yes, "Yes"'s carpe diem advice and plea are more potent and touching as originally sung by the senior citizens of 70, Girls, 70, who can speak from a longer lifetime of experience, with more credibility, urgency, and motivation. But it can also work as a more generalized, positive, take-a-chance philosophy of life if it seems both practiced and preached by younger or age-uncertain performers. As a group number, it is a pep rally here, perhaps with an abundance of cheer and a dearth of the pangs of poignancy. The widest exposure of "Yes" probably was in the opening number of the televised concert Liza with a Z, released on vinyl, CD, and DVD, by a then-26-year-old Liza Minnelli. The energetic elephant in the room casting a shadow is indeed Liza, Kander & Ebb's frequent muse and star, whose versions of a fair number of the numbers are fairly well known. Beyond her work on film in Cabaret and New York, New York, on stage beginning with Flora the Red Menace, The Act, The Rink and, briefly, Chicago's original run, she recorded and/or has performed in concert other Kander & Ebb things included here.
The much-exposed title songs of Cabaret and New York, New York, near the conclusion of this revue, are handled in the most novel ways. The tempi and tones are relaxed and playful, with the spotlight on the polished harmonies and blends as vocal showcases. In that way, they're not just successfully and sparkling, but the change from the "here we go again" same old/same old is refreshing. Forget the urgency and drive these two often have. These are vocal showpieces. "Cabaret" is musically sleekly seductive. In the anthem of New York City, the cast seems to be having a ball doing the bits where each sings a couple of lines in a foreign language.
The project, with the blessing of Kander, was recorded following a recent California production of the property. Its musical director/pianist, also taking some vocal turns, Joshua Eli Kranz, was retained for the recording. And he performs all those duties quite competently and entertainingly. Beaming with positive energy and enthusiasm, he's a welcome presence, and his solo of the title song of The Happy Time is an endearing treat and entreaty. Kristin Towers-Rowles, also in that mounting, was also held over for the studio recording. She is effectively gentle and sprinkles the needed awe in her solo of "A Quiet Thing." In a contrasting assignment, she takes on the frisky "Arthur in the Afternoon," the story-song whose gist is a tryst, heard in The Act, but originating before gender-reassignment and lyric surgery as "Mamie in the Afternoon," its words not surviving the production of A Family Affair, a pre-Ebb Kander assignment where he wrote not just the music but was co-billed for lyrics with playwright James Goldman (Follies).
Kyra Da Costa (formerly working under the name Kyra Little), who's done regional theatre and has been on Broadway in Baby It's You!, Aida, and Sweet Charity, makes some solid contributions, showing some versatility. While I don't find her fully convincingly involved in the lyrics of "Maybe This Time" or the revue's almost-title song (she gets first solo crack at this, as it's used as a running linking theme), her "Only Love" is more vulnerable and commanding. This item, originating in Zorba, is luminous. She's gamely loose and broad as the starstruck housewife partnering with Christiane Noll in the comical comparisons of "The Grass Is Always Greener." Of special note on this piece, originating in the 1981 Woman of the Year, are the lyric updates in some instances of wondering "What's so wonderful?". The reference to meeting the President is changed from the description (for Clinton) of a fast little jog to a fast food restaurant and is Obama-ready with a complaint about the conversations all being about health care. A teenaged daughter's birth control product is changed as Da Costa's singing complaint is not from the diaphragm. And the columnist mentioned is not the one of yorethe name dropped in, conveniently also four syllables, is Michael Riedel. The two are also paired again to commiserate about the lack of "Class," and it's kind of anemic if you want them to go for the gusto and nail the humor of the lament.
Those mostly familiar with Christiane Noll's more dramatic, elegant soprano work in concerts or from her time in Ragtime and Jekyll & Hyde will find those talents not called upon much here. The Noll roles here are the comedically broader, belting or brash sometimes, not her natural strong suit. I sense her working too much to "Ring Them Bells" and to find the bounce, then bravura, then self-pity and irony in "How Lucky Can You Get?" Her most valuable participation here may well be the purely vocal contributions, calling upon her prodigious professionalism and polish in harmonies.
Sparkling comedy master Jason Graae strikes gold in the valentine to "Sara Lee"or, rather, her products. Even sweeter and richer is his disarming, guileless "Marry Me." "Mr. Cellophane" is more chatty-cuddly cute, missing the opportunity for more pathos. Still, he makes it his own. In the title number from The Rink, and throughout, he adds spunk. Be on the lookout (listen-out?) for his sly quote of the famous flourished riff from the end of Wicked's "Defying Gravity." He's cheeky, and an asset to any musical theatre project. Brent Barrett is splendid throughout, often the anchor of the album. His dynamic "We Can Make It" is a thrilling highlight, a fully committed, commanding emotional high point. His leading man charisma is palpable. The mix of denial and desired dignity in "I Don't Remember You" is subtle and sympathetic.
Of special interest is the clever group plaint "Pain," written for Chita Rivera's act, about dancers' occupational hazards: frustrations, frailties, and fractures. The cast shows camaraderie here, and it's filled with misery-loves-company grousing. I laugh each time I hear the anecdotal recounting of seeing a dancer friend obviously worse for wear and wearing doctor-ordered protective equipment. Is it from a car accident or...? The reply: No. What "happened" was simply A Chorus Line. Great line. We miss you, Fred Ebb.
How wonderful to have preserved the appropriate and original (in both senses of the word) vocal arrangements of David Loud and David Krane's orchestrations. David Eisenbroich (banjo) and David Scott Cohen (keyboard) are among the eight musicians adding specific colors, and Hayan Charlston is especially flavorful on reeds and, happily, plentifully heard. The instrumental tracks are treasurable. A nice, long segment known as "Shoes Dance" features a sensational mix of what we heard on the disc just a few minutes ago ("Marry Me") and things we don't get to hear vocally at all, like spiffy and blessedly blithe treatments of Chicago's "Cell Block Tango" and the loveably carefree "Perfectly Marvelous" from Cabaret. As a bonus, the album ends with a series of mostly very short instrumental cues, "playoffs," proving good things come in small packages, like hardly more than a dozen seconds. And some pretty good things come in big packages, like this finally full, generous-length two-disc set, giving us much more of the score of this revue.