Kander and Ebb make the music go ’round

worldGoesRound-1By Ande Jacobson

Tabard Theatre Company starts its 13th season with The World Goes ‘Round, a musical revue featuring the works of John Kander and Fred Ebb. The show was conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson who weaved an interesting musical journey using the Kander and Ebb oeuvre from the worlds of stage, film, and television. The original production premiered Off-Broadway in 1991 and went on tour in 1992. In its current form, the show features works from New York, New York; 70, Girls, 70; The Happy Time; The Rink; The Act; Woman of the Year; Liza with a Z; Kiss of the Spider Woman; Funny Lady; Chicago; Cabaret; Zorba; Flora, The Red Menace; and two original songs written specifically for the revue. As director Diane Milo points out in her program note, the performers in this Tabard production have “all done the show before … and keep coming back for more.”

The cast includes Diane Milo, Will Perez, Tim Reynolds, Kereli Sengstack, Molly Thornton, and Hayley Lovgren who appears for Ms. Milo on August 2, 15, 24, and 25. Lovgren is also the dance captain and stage manager for the production. The instrumental trio includes music director Michael Johnson leading from the keyboard along with Bob Sunshine on piano and Joe Reichert on percussion. While the full orchestration calls for a seven piece ensemble, this trio covers all the bases adding the excitement that only comes from live music. The reduction is understandable in Tabard’s intimate performance space, but the timbres of some of the synthesized instruments don’t have quite the impact of the real thing. The differences are particularly noticeable on various attacks and sustained clarinet sections in the reed part.

The cast delivers a stunning performance.  Although this is a revue, the songs are sequenced to tell a story of life. Sometimes songs following a particular topic from different shows are connected such as when Perez and Sengstack cover courtship and marriage through “Marry Me” and “A Quiet Thing” from The Rink and Flora, The Red Menace respectively. The transition is so smoothly written and executed, it reads as a continuous song. Immediately following this segment, Thornton and Sengstack build on it in a very amusing one-upmanship duet comparing marriage to career in “The Grass is Always Greener” from Woman of the Year.

There is a nice variety of music including several solo moments and numerous ensemble numbers throughout the show. One of the standout sequences is the progression of Reynolds singing “We Can Make It” from The Rink, Milo singing “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret, and Sengstack singing “Isn’t This Better?” from Funny Lady. These three numbers flow, one into the next, and after each solos in turn, they begin a three part counterpoint that weaves all three songs together. As the vocal trio builds in intensity, the songs blend, and the eventual musical resolution is impressive both in its delivery and its impact.

Although the entire show is staged, Act 1 reads a bit more like a concert, the performers not changing costume but utilizing various props as appropriate. In addition to removable props such as Starbuck’s coffee cups and bar stools (and several others that will not be disclosed here), three periaktoi sit stage right. Each one sports three themed sides displaying show titles, a textured sparkly gold background, and a colorful abstract design and are manipulated by the actors at various times. One poignant use of the periaktoi is flipping to the gold backgrounds amidst red lighting to “inflame” the stage during Reynolds’ “Kiss of the Spider Woman” solo.

In addition to rather creative staging and props in Act 2, the actors add some costume changes. One nice example is in “Pain”, one of the original numbers in the show. Four of the cast members arrive in dancer’s attire to attend a rather painful dance class played for its comedic effect as their humorously sadistic task master eventually gets his just reward.

From heartfelt torch songs, to lively ensemble pieces combined with a large dose of comedy, the show provides a very entertaining evening. Most of Afton Bolz’s choreography fits quite well and enhances the vocals. Only once or twice does it overplay its cuteness, but even then it’s still enjoyable. The only real shortcomings are some of the technical aspects primarily dealing with the sound levels (e.g., Reynolds’ extra hot mic in “Kiss of the Spiderwoman”), and some of the lighting design where sharply focused spots are needed and fall a bit short (e.g., Perez’s “spot” play during his mime work in “Mr. Cellophane”). Even with a few technical faux pas, the show is very uplifting and leaves the audiences wanting for more as they hum their way down the stairs. Don’t miss this one.

What:  The World Goes ‘Round conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson with music by John Kander and Fred Ebb

When:  Continues through 25 August with a short break for the San Jose Jazz Festival

Where: Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro Square, San Jose, CA

Info:  See www.tabardtheatre.org or call 800-838-3006.

(Photo credit: Edmond Kwong)

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2 thoughts on “Kander and Ebb make the music go ’round

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