The eclectic scores from composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb cover a remarkable breadth of literary and cultural territory—deriving from sources as diverse as Christopher Isherwood's Berlin (Cabaret) and Nikos Kazantzakis' Greece (Zorba), with other locales ranging from Depression-era Atlantic City (Steel Pier) to a Latin-American prison (Kiss of the Spider Woman). But underlying the poignancy in this diverse body of seriocomic work is the resilience of the human spirit, whether it's overcoming heartbreak, facing an oppressive society, or simply making it to the next day. Despite adversities, the sun rises anew and The World Goes 'Round.
The 1991 Off-Broadway premiere of this revue, which spotlights great songs from the Kander & Ebb theatre/TV/film canon, remains the best composer-salute show this critic has ever seen. The K&E knack for insightfully revealing character nuance in song while telling a virtual mini-story makes their work ideal for the musical revue format. Add such ingenious touches as a roller-skating sequence and a lovely mini-ballet, and the 1991 show made an unforgettable impression. In the hands of director Bonnie Hellman, the Rubicon Theatre rendition comes closer than any I've seen to approaching that original magic.
Hellman wisely avoids slavish duplication of the staging concepts of Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson, tailoring her interpretation to the strengths of a gifted five-member ensemble (Danny Bolero, Michael G. Hawkins, Linda Kerns, Kelli Maguire, Cindy Robinson). They perform the dazzling array of numbers in front of Tom Giamrio's simple but tastefully ambient Manhattan-moonlit set, which is gorgeously showcased under Kathi O'Donohue's enchanting lighting. Shon Le Blanc complements these efforts with chic costumes. Thanks to Dean Mora's vibrant musical direction and the sharp talents of a four-piece combo, the evergreen tunes are in top form. Choreographer Kim Morgan Greene provides versatile styles to suit the various songs.
The cast mines the material for all of its musical, comedic, and dramatic treasures. Whether the songs depict the downside of celebrity ("The Grass Is Greener"), disappointments in romance ("My Coloring Book"), or goofy satire ("Coffee in a Cardboard Cup"), the transitions are seamless. The singing and acting are universally superb, and each player has moments in the spotlight. The always-terrific Hawkins is at his best in a delicious soft-shoe tribute to pastry ("Sara Lee"). Maguire tears into the dynamic "City Lights" (from The Act) with bravura force. Bolero excels in the poignant "Mr. Cellophane" (from Chicago). Kerns is a powerhouse of giddy versatility in "Ring Them Bells" (from TV's Liza With a Z), while Robinson sizzles in the sexy numbers "Arthur in the Afternoon" (from The Act) and "All That Jazz" (from Chicago).
One might suggest that the license holders release some K&E song additions, such as from the yet-unproduced shows The Visit and The Skin of Our Teeth, as well as the post-1991 Broadway shows—the underrated Steel Pier and more from the duo's richest score to date, Kiss of the Spider Woman. Meanwhile, this exuberant production infuses the sometimes overworked composer-revue genre with an invigorating dose of sass and class.
"The World Goes 'Round," presented by the Rubicon Theatre Company, at the Laurel Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Suite 300, Ventura. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 2 p.m. Dec. 2-24. $20-35. (805) 667-2900.