In bringing And the World Goes Round: The Songs of Kander and Ebb to Boston's Lyric Theatre in this spring, producing artistic director Spiro Veloudos has done theatergoers and life-worshippers alike an enormous service. We get to revel in this most optimistic of seasons, accompanied by the richly layered music and lyrics of the team that gave us Cabaret, Chicago, Funny Lady, Zorba, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and, of course, New York, New York.
To do this, Veloudos has assembled an exceptional ensemble of five Boston-area actor/singers: veterans Merle Perkins, Mary Callanan, Christine Maglione, and Frank Gayton, along with promising newcomer David Foley, Jr. Together, the cast romps, slinks, vamps, warbles, and even roller skates (don't ask--just see it) through 31 songs collected from a collaboration that has lasted for nearly four decades.
The challenge of carrying off this much material--with so few people, and so much movement--without allowing the pace to droop makes huge demands on the energy of the actors (not to mention their voices). Aided by the direction of Peter A. Carey, the choreography of Ilyse Robbins, and the musical direction of Jonathan Goldberg, the ensemble succeeds admirably.
Merle Perkins' smoky voice, combined with her ability to live in the darker areas of the human soul, are always riveting. Frank Gayton's self-deprecating charm and deadpan humor work very well with this material. Christine Maglione does a good job with frenetic sexiness, although she seems even more comfortable in the very funny character pieces she pulls off. When Mary Callanan loosens up and starts to sell her song-stories, rather than simply singing the words, she is very powerful and very funny. And David Foley, Jr., a senior at Boston University, has a wonderful voice that--when he is able to connect himself with the emotional complexity of the piece as well as its technical demands--promises to make him a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
And the World Goes Round (which was originally conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson) is a feast for fans of Kander and Ebb, and a great introduction to their work for the uninitiated. Since their shows often have a European sensibility that (unlike a lot of traditional U.S. musical fare) cannot guarantee a happy ending or a simplistic working out of plot, much of their work has never achieved the popular status of earlier teams such as Lerner and Loewe, and Rodgers and Hart. It's too complicated. Too dark. A little too real, perhaps.
And the World Goes Round makes no attempt to sugar the sometimes bitter twists of Kander and Ebb's work, but hearing it in a different context, surrounded by work that is also by turns touching, lyrical, sexy, and even hilarious, lends the whole body a very human face. The emphasis is always on a "life (that) keeps happening every day."
As enjoyable as musical revues can be, they still have pitfalls. For example, And the World Goes Round suffers from a complete lack of conversation between songs that might serve to give the evening a sense of story. Such, perhaps, is the drawback of the revue form. This puts the actors in the position of having to rediscover a through-line with each song, which occasionally leaves the audience wishing for a bit more clarity.
It would also have been nice to see the characters able to settle more into Janie F. Howland's darkly appealing bi-level cabaret (appropriately lit by Christopher Ostrom), with its intimate tables and lonely spaces. A conversational interlude would also serve to allow the complexity of some of Kander and Ebb's tapestried songs to sink in before moving on to the next offering at lightning-speed. But this is a small criticism of a thoroughly enjoyable production. If spring is making you want to sing and dance, The Lyric's And the World Goes Round should give you both a great evening of entertainment and plenty of new material for the shower.
Caroline Nesbitt is the third generation of her family to act. She is a performer with Underground Railway Theatre, Seacoast Repertory Theatre, New Art Theatre, and the New Hampshire Performing Arts Center, and is the artistic director of Advice to the Players. She also teaches acting, and is an author and essayist.