If you are a serious musical theater fan, you will know the names John Kander and Fred Ebb and the catalog of musicals they have written over three or so decades.
If you're a half-hearted fan, you might be clueless about most of their efforts, although you most likely are familiar with "Cabaret" and "Chicago," in both the film and stage versions. Oh, and there's that little tune they wrote for Liza Minnelli in the Martin Scorsese film of the same name: "New York, New York."
But no matter your classification—including that of a total novice in such musical matters—you should get thee hence to the Cabaret space at the Temple of Music and Art to enjoy a genuinely entertaining production of "The World Goes Round—The Songs of Kander and Ebb," brought to us by Arizona Onstage Productions.
The show is a musical revue of Kander /Ebb material, and when it was first conceived as such in the early 1990s, some folks had begun to realize that although the team had been quite prolific in their work, a lot of the shows their songs inhabited were, how shall we say, total losers. I mean, really. Have you heard of "Flora, the Red Menace," "The Rink," or "70, Girls, 70?" But the songs certainly weren't losers. They were pretty wonderful. So the team of Susan Stroman, David Thompson and Scott Ellis plucked some plums from the loser shows and strung them together with some from Kander/Ebb hits, and "The World Goes Round" was born.
Being a revue, there is no plot. There are a string of tunes, each of which tells a mini-tale. That's the thing about writing for the musical theater: each song must be its own self-contained story, although it must also support and expand the overarching story of the musical. So what we have here is like a musical short-story collection.
Director Kevin Johnson, the mastermind of AOP who has had the audacity to produce mammoth musicals like "Les Miserables" and "Sweeney Todd," something no other local group would dare, has gathered a very talented and skilled group to deliver the Kander/Ebb goods. And that includes a four-piece live band. Actor/singers Erin Anderson, Liz Cracchiolo, Amy Erbe, Jeremy Vega and Tyler Wright, all have their moments to shine individually and in groups.
There are some funny songs, like "The Grass is Always Greener," delivered deliciously by Erbe and Cracchiolo, and "Mr. Cellophane," performed by Vega (although the staging could have been better—the song has to be substantial even thought the character is not.) There are songs with lyrics that are hauntingly sweet, like "A Quiet Thing:" "Happiness comes in on tiptoe/Well, what d'ya know/It's a quiet thing/A very quiet thing." Cracchiolo gives that a good go. There are group numbers that rattle and rouse, like "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup," and "Yes." And arranger David Loud (although he's not credited in the program) did some very nifty weaving together of several lovely songs where voices blend in and out, with the medley enhancing each individual song and creating an even more powerful number. This was especially true in "We Can Make It" (Wright), "Maybe This Time" (Anderson) and "Isn't This Better?"(Cracchiolo).
The design elements work for the most part, although there were some sound issues opening night, such as microphone feedback, and sometimes the band overwhelms the singers, which is not so good. But considering the challenges of working in the cabaret space, the show comes together well.
Some Tucsonans seem to be unaware of Arizona Onstage's consistently good work. That's too bad, because they're missing some really quite wonderful musical theater. The productions may not be perfect, but every one I've ever seen has been very, very good. You shouldn't miss another one.