by Deborah E. Burns, October 2007
All that jazz!
Take two gifted songwriters; three sensuous ladies; two suave tenors; and five superb musicians. Mix them up on Barrington Stage Company’s Mainstage under the deft direction of Julianne Boyd. Add some spirits: a little champagne, some Chicago bootleg whiskey, and a chaser of Berlin schnapps. The resulting concoction is a smart, sexy, sophisticated revue called The World Goes ‘Round, celebrating the remarkable music of John Kander and Fred Ebb.
Best known for their scores for Cabaret and Chicago, along with the inspired song “New York, New York,” Kander and Ebb are also the composer and lyricist of Kiss of the Spider Woman, Woman of the Year, Fosse, and a dozen other musicals. Often associated with the likes of Barbra Streisand and Liza Minelli, the pair won a slew of Tonys and Emmys over the years. This revue, which first appeared off-Broadway in 1991, showcases many of their less known (to me, at least) numbers as well as their blockbusters, some of which deserve to appear on the list of top musical songs of all time. The variety of emotions, moods, and rhythms is quite dazzling: the featured songs range from fizzy and funny to blue and brooding, including several that are truly electric.
With no spoken dialogue, the five cast members move from song to song in ever-changing combinations, costumes, and personalities. I happen to be a stickler for accurate intonation, and these singers’ pitches are impeccable, resulting in rich blends and harmonies (duets, trios, quartets, and even quintets). This exciting sound is what one has come to expect from Music Director Brian Usifer, who drew such stunning harmonies from the teenaged performers in BSC’s High School Musical this summer. As for the band, every member soars, and the musical arrangements are uncannily matched and mirrored by Joshua Bergasse’s choreography.
A sultry, late-night-bluesy clarinet starts the show, and then Angela Karol Grovey heats things up with the title song, stating the theme: stuff happens, and still the world keeps turning. She starts very quietly and builds, making the most of her big, beautiful contralto voice and lovely, expressive face. Later in the show she will deliver a show-stopping rendition of “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret.
Bianca Marroquin, reminiscent at times of a slightly twisted Mary Tyler Moore, is a natural comic, a risk taker, and a marvelous dancer. Her “All That Jazz” (she was Roxie in Chicago on Broadway) is sexy, mocking, and physical -- her lacy garter lands in the audience and she invades the band’s space to perch on Usifer’s piano. In contrast, she later offers a heart-rending performance of “A Quiet Thing” – a wistful song about diminished life expectations.
The purest vocal sound of the group belongs to Andrea Rivette, and her presence combines elements of Julie Andrews and Lily Tomlin – vulnerable yet fully able to command the room. She and Grovey engage in a classy duet in the class-conscious "The Grass Is Always Greener," with warm blend and chemistry, and later she plays the dangerous seductress in the wickedly tempting “Cabaret.”
The two men are harder to distinguish at first than the women, partly because they both have similar strong tenor voices and, like the women, they play a myriad of parts. Kevin Duda, who grew up in Greenfield, MA, does a particularly wonderful, understated job with “Mr. Cellophane.” He turns out to be a terrific dancer as well, especially with Marroquin, which we would have enjoyed seeing more of. California native Kurt Robbins ranges from the very funny “Arthur in the Afternoon” to the haunting “Kiss of the Spider Woman."
Periodically the cast comes together for big ensemble numbers, some familiar and some not. In one terrific song (new to me) called “Say Yes,” a verse goes: “Say Yes. / Life keeps happening every day, say Yes. / When possibilities come your way, / You can't start wondering what to say / You never win if you never play -- / Say Yes."
All together the songs conjure up a world that any adult with a history can recognize. Here are women who can be sultry but also wistful, who may have been burned but are still brave; men who are ardent, thoughtful, nostalgic; couples who are wry but filled with hope. Happiness can turn into the blues at any moment, and vice versa, like carnival music in the rain. You learn from experience; you go on; you find joy in what you have; you say “maybe this time”; you say Yes.
The World Goes ‘Round lasts a little more than two hours, including one 15-minute intermission. The show is suitable for adults and savvy teenagers, but not children.
The Barrington Stage Company production of And the World Goes 'Round runs through October 21 at their Main Stage theatre, 30 Union Street in Pittsfield. For tickets, call the box office at (413) 236-8888 (Pittsfield); (413) 528-8888 (South County) or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2007