A masterful, musical 'World' at the Mechanic

THEATER REVIEW

January 14, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

"The Rink" performed as a tap number on roller skates; "Me and My Baby" sung to banjos in baby baskets; "New York, New York" presented in foreign languages.

"The World Goes 'Round" -- the clever, zippy musical revue now at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre -- is a mixture of familiar songs sung as you've never heard them before, and unfamiliar ones sung with so much appeal, you'll wonder why they aren't better known.

What these 31 songs have in common is that they are the work of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, whose songwriting partnership is one of the longest in Broadway history and whose credits include "Cabaret," "Zorba" and the movie, "New York, New York."

What makes "The World Goes 'Round" so thoroughly delightful, however, isn't just the raw material (though that's an bTC unquestionable delight), it's the spirit and talent of the five-member cast coupled with the refreshingly creative approach of choreographer Susan Stroman, director Scott Ellis and writer David Thompson.

A few examples. A novelty number called "Pain," about dancers slaving for a sadistic choreographer, concludes with the cast dancing with crutches. "Money, Money," from the movie version of "Cabaret," presents the actors with top hats that illuminate their faces with a ghoulish glow. And "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" -- resurrected from Kander and Ebb's short-lived musical "70, Girls, 70" -- has the cast singing and vibrating at faster and faster caffeine-induced speeds as they swig java.

But these swift-paced comic numbers aren't all that gives this show distinction. Director Ellis also knows when to stop the action and simply let a singer sell a song. And arranger David Loud (who doubles as conductor) displays a knack for combining songs from diverse sources with results that are as musically stunning as they are poignant.

When "I Don't Remember You" (from another flop, "The Happy Time") glides into a contrapuntal duet with "Sometimes a Day Goes By" (from "Woman of the Year"), it produces a moving contrast between one man who can't remember love and another who can't forget.

Later in the show, the elegant, musically complex trio formed by blending "We Can Make It" (from "The Rink"), "Maybe This Time" (from the movie of "Cabaret") and "Isn't This Better?" (from the movie, "Funny Lady") runs a gamut of emotions stretching from unbridled optimism to settling for less than the best.

The cast -- which includes several holdovers from the off-Broadway company -- is slick individually and in terms of ensemble. Karen Ziemba's slinky, limber dancing matches her expressive singing, as she proves when she shimmies her body and her voice in "All That Jazz." And when John Ruess stands stock still and belts out the title song from Kander and Ebb's newest show, "Kiss of the Spider Woman," his strong, assured delivery catches the audience in the spider's web, as well as himself.

Shelley Dickinson and Marin Mazzie are as adept at softly sung solos as they are in their brash comic duets, "Class" and "The Grass Is Always Greener." And Bobby Smith -- who filled in for a temporarily indisposed Joel Blum at yesterday's matinee -- is equally convincing as pathetic "Mr. Cellophane" and as the determined suitor in "Marry Me."

The director, choreographer and writer who created "The World Goes 'Round" have said they did so in part because they felt Kander and Ebb have not gotten their due. Ironically, this revue suggests that one reason may be the diversity of their work. The best clue to their style may be found in their very first song, "My Coloring Book." Kander and Ebb's songs encompass every color of the rainbow, and so does this show. Color it bright, shining and just plain lovely.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "The World Goes 'Round."

Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, Hopkins Plaza.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. matinee Wednesdays, Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 7.

Tickets: $20-$45.

Call: (410) 625-1400.

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