By Annette Hinkle
The legendary songwriting duo of Kander and Ebb have been responsible for some of the biggest hits on Broadway in the past half century. Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb first began their collaboration back in 1962, and in the years that followed, the pair wrote a prolific number of songs and scores including “Cabaret,” which is currently enjoying a revival on Broadway in the old Studio 54 space, “Funny Lady,” and, perhaps their most memorable (and biggest) hit, “Chicago.”
And because he has been denied the rights to produce “Chicago” time and time again (it’s been 17 consecutive years, but who’s counting) this fall, Michael Disher, director of Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center, decided to approach the challenge from a totally unique angle by bringing the music of Kander and Ebb to the stage in an entirely different form.
“The World Goes ‘Round, The Songs of Kander & Ebb” kicks off Center Stage’s new season and the production is playing at the Southampton Cultural Center now through November 9. The show takes its title from a tune the songwriting team wrote for Liza Minnelli in the 1977 film “New York, New York.” That film’s title song, also included in the show, was, of course, a standard by Frank Sinatra.
Those expecting a night of musical theater filled with plot structure, intriguing narratives and a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again kind of experience may be disappointed. In fact, this production is not a structured play, but rather, a musical revue. Which means that audience members who can’t get enough of wall to wall song and dance numbers will get their fill and then some.
In this show, there are no sets, precious few props and the costumes consist of a simple selection of basic black wardrobe pieces. The songs of Kander and Ebb are the stars here, and to pull it off, Mr. Disher has assembled a varied cast of 10 singers and dancers, some of whom are admittedly more comfortable in the song and dance role than others. They include Richard Adler, Isabel Alvarez, Holly Marie Dunn, Sharon Mulvaney, Jaclyn Randazzo, Mary Sabo, Jack Seabury, Kyle Sherlock, Josephine Wallace and Edna Winston.
And though you won’t get the whole play, the music of “Chicago” is well-represented in this production with “All That Jazz,” “Class,” “Mr. Cellophane” and “Me and My Baby” all in the line up. Also expect songs from “Funny Lady,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and yes, Sinatra’s signature song, “New York, New York.”
Also expect to hear some long forgotten numbers that only true Kander and Ebb fans are likely to know, including a lovely rendition of “Colored Lights” offered by Ms. Dunn from “The Rink,” one of their less successful Broadway plays, and “My Coloring Book,” a song that comes not from a musical, but rather Barbra Streisand’s second album recorded in 1963. In this production, the number is performed sweetly by Ms. Randazzo.
Despite the fact that Kander and Ebb wrote their material in the last half of the 20th century, some of their numbers feel oddly dated today in an “aw, shucks” kind of way. Younger audience members may not always appreciate the sappy nature of some of the duo’s more sentimental pieces, but in some cases, that dated quality works well here. Particularly impressive in the first act is “There Goes the Ball Game” from “New York, New York.” Performed in this production by a trio consisting of Ms. Randazzo, Ms. Dunn and Ms. Alvarez, the singers’ Andrew’s Sisters-esque treatment of the song, with harmonies that are stellar, is evocative of another era in the best of ways.
But ultimately this revue show is at its best (and most dynamic) with numbers like “All That Jazz” when the whole cast gets into the act with more compelling staging and dance moves (thanks to choreography by Mr. Disher and Bethany Dellapolla).
Act Two begins on a particular high note with the versatile Ms. Sabo offering a very fun rendition of “Ring Them Bells” (from “Liza with a Z”). This narrative song tells the story of a young woman from Riverside Drive who travels the world in search of Mr. Right, only to meet the boy next door, literally, on a beach in Dubrovnik. The whole cast gets in on the act on this one as well, and the addition of ankle and wrist bells, along with the cleverly written lyrics and expressive singing by Ms. Sabo, add great charm to the piece.
There are fine moments too where multiple songs are offered at once to great effect. This technique is particularly effective when Mr. Seabury, Ms. Dunn and Ms. Sabo perform as a trio by offering up “We Can Make It” (from “The Rink”), “Maybe This Time” (from “Cabaret”) and “Isn’t This Better” (from Funny Lady”) simultaneously.
Mr. Seabury continues to shine in the final numbers of the revue, which ends on a high note with music from “Cabaret” in which he assumes the role of the Master of Ceremonies, first with “Money Money,” followed by the show’s title song. Finally there comes, “New York, New York” itself with a Sinatra-inspired imitation that is spot on.
What else could you possibly imagine ending the evening with? And when it comes to revisiting the music of Kander and Ebb, what more could you possibly want?
Center Stage at SCC presents The World Goes ‘Round, the Songs of Kander and Ebb through Sunday November 9, at SCC’s Levitas Center for the Arts. Karen Hochstedler is musical director. Other Kander and Ebb shows represented in the revue include “Woman of the Year,” “The Happy Time,” “Flora, The Red Menace,” “The Act” and “70, Girls, 70.” Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. on the stage of The Levitas Center for the Arts, 25 Pond Lane, across from Agawam Park in Southampton Village. General admission is $25 (students $12). Group rates are available and reservations are encouraged by calling (631) 287-4377 or visiting scc-arts.org.