The World Goes ‘Round, a musical revue showcasing the songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb, opened this week and runs through September 16 at UCLA’s Ralph Freud Playhouse. It has, in the past, won three Drama Desk Awards and was praised by the New York Times as “an unexpected delight”. It is filled with Broadway musical hit songs including All That Jazz and Mr. Cellophane from Chicago; Money, Money and Cabaret from the musical Cabaret; and Kiss of the Spider Woman from the musical by the same name that was based on the Manuel Puig novel El Beso de la Mujer Araña. This production presented by REPRISE 2.0, led by Producing Artistic Director Marcia Seligson, and in association with the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Department of Theater (UCLA TFT) was at best uneven. The voices and the musicians were strong, but the staging, the acting and the dancing, especially during Act One, were ragged. One or two of the songs were, in my opinion, miscast.
In all fairness, the space provided for the actors/dancers/singers to move around on was limited and on two different levels, forcing the actors to squeeze past each other and to navigate a series of stairs throughout the production. From the fourth row, one could see the players’ eyes constantly glancing downward to assure that they did not tumble or forced to become two-dimensional figures to execute the sometimes-complex staging and/or choreography. John Todd’s choreography may have benefited from an increase of open space, but on this set, it simply came across as trite.
The seven-piece orchestra was located on yet a third level behind an ornate railing and suspended above their heads were three Jetsonesque chandeliers. A small nightclub style table equipped with a small lamp and drinks sat on each side of the stage for the actors to sit, partake of a sip of liquid and to watch their colleagues perform. The set, and the actors doubling as paying customers, gave The World Goes ‘Round a nightclub or cabaret-type atmosphere.
The musical opened with a powerful performance of And The World Goes ‘Round by Dawnn Lewis, who is not only a wonderful singer and actor, but the President & CEO of Morning Jewel Inc. and the Founder & President of the A New Day Foundation. The song was originally written for Liza Minnelli to perform in the film New York, New York. Lewis rightly stayed away from trying to copy Minnelli’s style and gave a truly commanding rendition of the song.
The other actors were brought onstage and introduced with a And The World Goes ‘Round reveal, afterwards leaving Valerie Perri to give her own excellent performance of Yes, a song also sung by Minnelli in the 1972 made for television concert film Liza With a “Z”. Perri’s strong voice and strong acting made Yes a pleasure to watch.
Other highlights in Act One was a song from the 1971 musical 70, Girls, 70. Coffee In A Cardboard Cup, performed by the company Lewis, Perri, Larry Cedar, Kelley Dorney, and Michael Starr, was a whimsical take off on how coffee to go, i.e. Starbucks, and the very particular way each individual wants it made, has become prominent in our daily morning rituals. Here, the Todd’s pedestrian-like choreography worked, and he made excellent use of the set.
My Coloring Book, introduced by Sandra Stewart in 1962 on NBC’s Perry Como Show and later sung by Barbra Streisand, is a sad, introspective ballad sung here by Lewis and later joined by Perri. This blending of voices and the onstage chemistry between these two women, helped the song hit its intended mark.
Kelley Dorney seemed uncomfortable and sadly miscast in All That Jazz, a well-known song from the hit musical Chicago (1975) and made even more famous by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the 2002 movie version. Dorney redeemed herself, however, with her performance of How Lucky Can You Get from the 1975 film Funny Girl. Class, which appeared in the Broadway version of Chicago but cut from the film version, happily reunited Lewis and Perri, who sat on the stairs for the entire number to sing and act out the lyrics. It was a breath of fresh air that brought me back into the revue.
Act Two was the stronger of the two acts, sadly because it featured very little dancing. The exception was Shoe Dance, a tap number performed by Kelley Dorney and Michael Starr, who gave adequate but not stellar performances. Starr appeared better trained in tap, but for someone who has seen many of the great tap dancers perform live, his feet did not make the necessary music of a strong tap artist, and Dorney struggled to keep up.
One of my favorite songs was sung with great heart by award winning actor Larry Cedar. Mr. Cellophane was originally sung by Joel Grey on Broadway and then brought to wider attention by John C. Reilly in the film version of Chicago. It is a heart wrenching song about a man who feels invisible to others, including his wife Roxie. Cedar gave a wonderful rendition of this sad ballad.
Perri brought her powerful vocal abilities to the title song Kiss Of The Spider Woman, which I first heard in the 1985 Brazilian-American film by the same title. It is a haunting song that was sung by Sonia Braga in the film version. Dorney and Lewis shine during The Grass Is Always Greener (1981 Woman Of The Year), and Perri excels in Isn’t It Better (1975, Funny Girl).
The entire cast gave energetic performances in Cabaret and New York, New York, but even with these, this production was not memorable. I continuously had to work at staying attentive, and the uneven talents provided minimal onstage chemistry between the entire cast. There was some between couples here and there, but overall, I felt little unity or a sense of “company”. The costumes by designer Shon LeBlanc were fitting for this type of revue but did not always flatter the actors, and Lighting Designer Jared A. Sayeg worked hard to give each song its individual look.
The Scenic Designer for The World Goes ‘Round was Stephen Gifford and the Director was Richard Israel. The very talented orchestra members were: Gerald Sternbach, Musical Direction/Conductor/Piano; Ed Vodicka, Assistant Conductor/Keyboards; Albie Berk, Drums/Percussion/Music Coordinator; Adrian Rosen, Bass; Michael Stever, Trumpet/Flugelhorn; Charles Morillas, Trombone; and Phil Feather, Alto Saxophone/Clarinet/Flute, Piccolo/Soprano Sax.
For information and tickets, click here.
To learn more about REPRISE 2.0, click here.
Featured image: The cast of REPRISE 2.0’s production of THE WORLD GOES ROUND. Photo credit Michael Lamont