What Goes 'Round

Tuesday January 23, 07
by Dalt Wonk, Gambit Weekly

Le Petit Theatre is well named. Petit, of course, means small in French and the auditorium at "America's Oldest Continuously Active Community Theater" is a small gem -- with its comfortable, raked seating and snazzy balcony. Why, now there's even an orchestra pit. As for the stage, it boasts an impressive proscenium arch and loads of fly space.

All this paraphernalia seems to cry out for elaborate productions. Often, in fact, that's precisely what we get. One of the complaints you hear grumbled about Le Petit's mountings of recent Broadway hits is that they're too closely modeled on the originals. Let's leave that hot button issue aside for now. What's interesting is that such emulation would even be possible.

These reflections came to my mind as I watched And The World Goes 'Round -- The Songs of Kander and Ebb, currently on the boards. The show achieves its considerable delight more from invention than from elaboration. That's not to say The World has the scaled-down rough-and-ready charm of bohemian cabaret. It boasts a graceful, even somewhat ritzy confidence, but you could probably pack the whole shebang, including all costumes and props, into a single trunk.

I associate that simplified complication (or, if you prefer, complicated simplicity) with Brandt Blocker, who handles both stage and musical direction for the show. Blocker has given us a string of musical hits over the years, and they all have had a tonic vitality. It's gotten so you expect a good time even if the subject matter doesn't sound like your cup of tea.

I was, for instance, not jumping out of my skin at the chance to sit through an entire evening of nothing but songs by Kander and Ebb. I don't have anything against these two modern masters who gave us Cabaret and Chicago, to mention only two of their most memorable creations. But show tunes don't top the list of my personal top 40s.

Well, I'm happy to report that once again, somehow, Blocker pulls it off. Let me add that he pulls it off with the able help of choreographer Karen Hebert and costume designer Judy Claverie among others -- for while the production is not lavish, it is precise and intricate.

Of course, the key to any show, but especially a straightforward songfest like this, is the performers. Here we have a winning quintet: Trina Beck, Brandi Cotogno, Meredith Long, Patrick Mendelson and Tywon Morgan. Each has memorable solos, and all join in exuberant ensemble singing.

Those ensemble songs are where the complicated simplicity is most apparent. Often we get the effect of a spectacular production number built around a single prop. "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" (from 70, Girls, 70) for instance casts a satirical glance at our hurry-up, eat-on-the run society. One singer reaches off stage, gets a red 'go cup' and passes it down the line. The action is repeated until each singer has a cup. This one prop in five identical repetitions serves as the adornment. Busby Berkley it ain't. But it works.

And speaking of low-budget Berkley, there's a lovely moment late in the show when white top hats and gloves descend from the fly space so that the company can do a glow-light hand jive.

Lest musical comedy fans brand me as an irredeemable, philistine grouch because of my lukewarm welcome to show tunes, let me say that I positively love the "Money" song from the film version of Cabaret. Maybe it's the mixture of catchiness and blasphemy -- as in the line "Money makes the world go around" which so acidly corrupts the old platitude where "love" is the cosmic locomotive force. Why is that turnaround so pleasing? In any case, the quintet performs this degenerate hilarity in top form.

There are many other surprises in the show, but I might as well leave them as surprises. Let me just say that all the performers sing splendidly and the numbers are shared evenly between them -- as balanced as the Saints' offense, to use a reference close to everyone's heart these days.

Some of the songs are familiar favorites from shows like New York, New York. Others are from lesser-known ventures like Zorba, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Flora, The Red Menace. Still others are just occasional tunes.

Jonne Dendinger, who is popping up more often these days, gets credit as assistant musical director. Ed McIntyre designed the production. Cliff Stromeyer handled the sound and Scott Sauber designed the lighting with some help from Earl Lennie III, who pitched in with special effects lighting.

In brief, And The World Goes 'Round is a neat, spirited entertainment.