The World Goes ‘Round at the Union Theatre

The cast of The World Goes ‘Round at the Union Theatre, London

The cast of The World Goes ‘Round at the Union Theatre, London

Jonathan Vickers writes: London’s Union Theatre is to stage the award-winning Kander & Ebb revue The World Goes ‘Round in a limited run beginning 17 January (previews on the 15 and 16 January) and ending on 8 February.

The piece, exclusively featuring the music of admired writing team John Kander and Fred Ebb, parades some of the duo’s famous works (penned over three decades), including Cabaret and Chicago, as well as turning the spotlight on some of their lesser-known pieces, such as The Happy Time, 70, Girls, 70, The Rink and Zorba.

“Rehearsals are going really well,” reveals cast member Simon Green, whose recent credits include Monsieur Le Fevre in the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera, and Bruce Ismay in Thom Southerland’s acclaimed production of Titanic at the Southwark Playhouse. “We did a lot of work before Christmas, so now it’s just about brushing the cobwebs off it; we’re raring to go.”

Lisa Stokke (who was the original Sophie in Mamma Mia! and recently provided the Norwegian voiceover for Idina Menzel in the Norwegian language version of the Disney animated feature Frozen), is also in the company and enjoying the process: “Everything is going full throttle here. It’s such a great piece to be a part of because the songs are amazing. What makes them so special is that each one tells its own story. You can take Kander & Ebb songs completely out of the context of their original musical and still understand what they mean, and even though they deal with some heavy issues, it’s always done with incredible sensitivity.”

The revue, first performed on March 18 1991 at Manhattan’s Off-Broadway Westside Theatre, was an instant hit with both the public and the critics. Frank Rich, who was the chief theatre critic for the New York Times, said of the production: “The revue is sophisticated enough to satisfy aficionados like myself, who recently spent a week’s allowance to replace a worn copy of the out-of-print cast album of The Happy Time, and welcoming enough to convert new audiences to the Kander-Ebb fold.” Not bad coming from a man known as ‘The Butcher of Broadway’!

It went on to win a host of awards, including the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, an Outer Critics Circle award for Best Performance (for Robert Cuccioli) and multiple Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical Revue, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (for Karen Ziemba), and Outstanding Director of a Musical (Scott Ellis).

Charged with the task of re-creating such magic this side of the Atlantic is director Kirk Jameson, whose previous work at the theatre includes Dames At Sea, Once Upon a Mattress and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. His most recent project has been a production of Seussical at London’s Arts Theatre. Fate brought him and Simon Green together.

“Kirk and I did the latest tour of the new production of Phantom,” Green reveals. “We were both involved in the production as actors and it was through working together on that that he asked me to be involved with The World Goes ‘Round. He’s a terrific director. His energy, his ideas, his insightfulness and his passion bring new ideas to every nuance of the piece.”

Helping Jameson in this endeavour, besides Green and Stokke, will be an assortment of Britain’s finest talent, including Emma Francis (Sweeney Todd, My Fair Lady), Gareth Snook (The Phantom of the Opera, Assassins, Sunset Boulevard) and Susan Fay (Oliver!, Billy Elliot).

What’s it like being part of a cast of such seasoned professionals? “It’s so much fun,” explains Stokke. “It’s wonderful to get the chance to do tight harmonies with such great singers. We really bounce off each other.”

And Green reveals what we can look forward to in this production: “Kirk’s concept is very clever. It’s more than just a straightforward revue. There’s a context running through it; of memory, history, of growing up and of being young.”

And Stokke’s thoughts? She simply says: “It’ll be a magical experience.”

Count me in.

* The World Goes ‘Round runs from the 17 January (previews 15 and 16 January) until 8 February. The company also includes Elliot Berry, Gabrielle Allen, Genevieve Leeney, Charlotte Oakley and Shahail Woodcock. Sam Spencer-Lane provides the choreography, musical supervisor is Richard Bates and Michael Riley is musical director. The musical is produced by Sasha Regan for the Union Theatre.

Readers may also be interested in: Seussical – director Kirk Jameson makes musical magic


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