THE MUSICAL WEB OF KANDER & EBB
Insinuating, sassy siren songs at Le Petit Theatre
Friday, January 19, 2007
By David CuthbertTheater writer
No other songwriting team seduced an audience quite the way John Kander and Fred Ebb did; Kander with bold, mellifluous melodies and those insistent, signature vamps, Ebb with his rapturous, acerbic and surprising lyrics. They could write ravishing love songs, sweeping anthems, "big lady" torch numbers, ironic observational odes and nimbly naughty comic turns. Consummate entertainers, they saw life as show business -- as a cabaret, as vaudeville, a nightclub act and the city in which they lived and worked.
You don't come out of a Kander & Ebb show just humming a melody. You make your exit wrapped in the glow from the glorious world of the stage that they celebrated. And when the show is a revue of their songs encompassing 30 years, there are dozens of melodies, images and emotions swirling in your head.
The highest praise one can give Brandt Blocker's production of "And the World Goes 'Round: The Songs of Kander & Ebb" is that it does the duo proud. Almost every song is an event and when two or three are juxtaposed in medley and counterpoint, the effect is truly exciting. Cast with five solid singer-dancers, accompanied by a seven-piece band that sounds like an orchestra, its paneled set lit with the requisite "Razzle Dazzle," the overall effect is "Class," sass and brass.
Each of the performers gets to sing a snatch of the title number (from the film "New York, New York"), but Meredith Long gives it the big, authoritative treatment to open the show. Long is a belter, who also draws another Liza showstopper, "Maybe This Time," which she delivers in a gutsy growl and then modulates to accompany both Brandi Cotogno's ballad "Isn't This Better?" ("Funny Lady") and Patrick Mendelson's "We Can Make It" ("The Rink").
One of the more interesting approaches is the modern jazz harmonics of "There Goes the Ball Game" ("New York, New York"), which segues into a '30s vamp and "How Lucky Can You Get," sung with syncopated snap by Long, the melody then slowed neurotically as the song is turned mockingly inward at its singer, à la Streisand in "Funny Lady."
Long is also very funny, paired with Cotogno in the peerless "Class" from "Chicago" and "The Grass Is Always Greener," which won Marilyn Cooper a Tony Award when she sang it with Lauren Bacall in "Woman of the Year."
Another powerhouse who is also a stylist is Tywon Morgan, who brings down the house performing the powerful "Kiss of the Spiderwoman," with a magical swirl of lighting. In "Mr. Cellophane" ("Chicago"), he's pursuing a follow-spot from an aisle, through the audience and onto the stage. He's got the best charm song, "Sara Lee," and leads the company in "Me and My Baby," which has a cute twist by choreographer Karen Hebert.
Because Kander and Ebb's greatest hits were staged by Bob Fosse, in the film "Cabaret" and the stage "Chicago," the great temptation is to Fosse-ize the proceedings, which Hebert never quite gives into, until the bowler and gloves finale and even then, she tweaks it.
Her busiest routine is for Trina Beck's bored housewife with Cyd Charisse legs and Mendelson's athletic boy toy in "Arthur in the Afternoon" ("The Act"). Hebert knows when to sit people on stools, when to let them stand and sing and provides one amusing, stylish touch after another. One miscalculation is "Loopin' the Loop," a lyric most people have never heard (it became the lively overture to "Chicago") and still won't, because between Cotogno's movement and indistinct delivery, it's largely lost.
But almost everything else works: "The Rink" on roller skates, naturally; Beck's exquisite "A Quiet Thing" ("Flora, the Red Menace"); Cotogno's conversational, carouselesque "Colored Lights" ("The Rink") and "Ring Them Bells" (the TV special "Liza with a Z"); Mendelson blending "I Don't Remember You" ("The Happy Time") with Morgan's "Sometimes a Day Goes By" ("Woman of the Year"). Great group numbers thread their way throughout, especially "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" ("70 Girls, 70") performed at an ever-increasing tempo as the group gets wired, a Manhattan Transfer jazzed and scatted vocalese "Cabaret" and a multi-lingual "New York, New York" with the requisite big finish.
Blocker conducts, with Jonne Dendinger at the piano. The oddly workable production design is by Ed McIntyre, all-important lighting by Scott Sauber and Earl H. Lennie III, the sound mixed to perfection by Cliff Strohmeyer. Judy Claverie's basic black costumes are accessorized with a sense of fun and fashion.
Le Petit Theatre continues this season's unbroken all-musical winning streak. Wow. How lucky can you get?