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First You Dream

This new revue of the songs of Kander and Ebb proves to be a glitteringly performed showcase of some of the pair's best work.

Julia Murney and company in First You Dream
(© Scott Suchman)
Folks who are not fans of greatest hits compilations may be forgiven for wondering why Eric Schaeffer and Signature Theatre have gone through all the trouble to create First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb, a first-rate revue of work from legendary songwriting duo John Kander & Fred Ebb.

After all, wasn't that already done with And the World Goes 'Round? And doesn't that necessarily mean that these songs, culled from the team's 17 musicals and a few of their films, are the ones not popular enough to be included the first time around? Well, yes and no.

If First You Dream doesn't break any new ground, it is nonetheless a glittering showcase of much of the best of the songwriting team's work -- including underappreciated selections from Steel Pier; Flora, the Red Menace; The Rink; and 70, Girls, 70 -- masterfully performed by Heidi Blickenstaff, James Clow, Norm Lewis, Julia Murney, Matthew Scott, and Eleasha Gamble.

In fact, the real surprise and delight here is the combination of muscular new orchestrations from Tony Award winner William David Brohn, and the powerful, 19-piece orchestra conducted by Jon Kalbfleisch. Many of the songs now have a sound that's more Basie than Broadway, with warm woodwinds and soaring brass, a thumping rhythm section of double bass, drums and guitar (and occasional banjo), and a sweet string section with harp.

Clow and Murney are let loose early in the show for a full-throated and swinging version of "Not Every Day of the Week" (from Flora), which leads directly into Gamble, whose stage presence and thrilling voice all but steal the show, singing "City Lights" (from The Act) with both power and crystalline beauty. Lewis pumps "Life Is" (from Zorba ) full of emotional almost operatic intensity, while Blickenstaff ends the first act with a smartly funny "Ring Them Bells." And rather than focusing on the familiar anthem portions of the iconic title song from Cabaret, Scott turns into it a reflective and somewhat rueful ballad that's matched in tempo with "I Miss the Music" (from Curtains).

Schaeffer has directed the show with a minimalist touch that puts First You Dream a bit closer to concert performance than standard revue. He also designed the drab, all-black set: a giant, raked bandstand with two sets of stairs for entrances or seating, and a smallish performing space in front. (Costumes are all black, too, until act two, when we finally get a bit of color.)

But when the focus is clearly on the music, the voices singing it, and the big band playing it, there's no need to complain about the trappings. Just sit back and accept the Dream.


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