By Bridgette M. Redman
For Broadway divas Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera, the song-writing duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb were their go-to guys for music that would make them shine. For decades, the duo wrote songs not just for those two ladies, but for Broadway hits such as "Cabaret," "Chicago," "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Curtains." They scored films, including writing the famous title song for "New York, New York."
In 1991, "And the World Goes 'Round" brought together a collection of their songs in a musical revue celebrating the duo's variety and prowess. Many of the songs come from their lesser-known musicals such as "The Rink," "The Happy Time" and "Woman of the Year."
This month, Farmers Alley Theatre presents the revue in cabaret format, with guests seated at tables and served drinks and raspberry cheesecake. They've already begun to add shows to the run, as they've been selling out their early dates.
Director and choreographer Stephen Brotebeck brings together an incredibly strong cast of actors and singers with the ensemble of Andrea Rose Arvanigian, Liz Fallon, Jamey Grisham, Melana Lloyd and Michael McGurk. Together they mine the emotional possibilities and the humor of each song in what is constantly a high-energy production that is high on sex appeal.
Lloyd starts the show with the title song, singing in true torch song style as the rest of the company dances to Jason Frink's intense lighting designs. Lloyd's voice is powerful and filled with character as she tells a story with her voice as well as with the lyrics. While she has fun comic moments in "The Grass is Always Greener" and "Class" with Arvanigian, she really shines in the solos featuring lost love and longing for something better. Her rendition of "My Coloring Book" is tear-inspiring, while "Maybe This Time" tinges hope with fear and reservations.
Fallon and Grisham make a sultry duo in both the comic "Arthur in the Afternoon" and the more dramatic "All That Jazz." They feed off each other and the audience, giving both songs playful elements that are engaging and energetic. Brotebeck's choreography fills the stage, while chairs, benches and steps add levels that keep things interesting.
McGurk gets his first comic moment early with the love song to "Sara Lee," given a hilarious assist by Lissa Hartridge's costuming when the women of the ensemble come out dressed as Sara Lee cupcakes. McGurk also shines in the torch song numbers and the moments of love and heart break. He covers quite the range of emotions, going from his comic numbers to the heartbreak of "Sometimes a Day Goes By," the loneliness of "Mr. Cellophane," the hope and controlled excitement of "Marry Me" and the confident invitation of "Cabaret."
Arvanigian captures the disillusioned socialite who realizes she's missing something in "Colored Lights," while doing a fun, story-telling Liza number to open Act II with "Ring them Bells."
And while each actor shined in their solos with their distinct personalities and voices, some of the evening's high points came in the group numbers when all five took the stage and performed complicated or comic choreography, such as when they danced the increasingly jittery "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup," donned roller skates for "The Rink," helped Arvangian act out the story in "Ring Them Bells," enacted the sadistic directions of a choreographer in "Pain" or brought the revue to a high-energy conclusion with the multilingual rendition of "New York, New York."
Equally impressive with the singers was the orchestra led by conductor Marie McColley Kerstetter, who also played keyboard. They took up the back of the stage and found the perfect blend of sound – neither too quiet nor too loud. The music was demanding and like the singers, each instrumentalist got his or her chance to shine. Jesse Williams was amazing on clarinet and saxophone, often adding musical curlicues that echoed the singers in perfect support. Matt Matuszek's trumpet playing added a jazzy sound to many of the numbers.
"And the World Goes 'Round" is a well-executed show with talent that shines from every actor, musician, director and technical designer and crew. Every moment is carefully planned and creates an evening of musical cabaret that can make for a great evening or afternoon out – especially if you're looking for a change from holiday fare.
'And the World Goes 'Round'
Farmers Alley Theatre
221 Farmers Alley, Kalamazoo
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 11, 18
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12, 19, 26
8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, 20, 27
2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14, 21, 28
7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14
2 hours, 12 minutes