The World Goes Round – The Songs of Kander and Ebb continues at The Pheasantry, London until 8 July.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
Those Broadway giants John Kander and Fred Ebb are so much more than Cabaret, Chicago, Funny Lady and that anthem to the Big Apple, ‘New York, New York’, and this classy confection, by a first-rate cast of five headed by velvet-voiced Debbie Kurup and Wicked man Oliver Tompsett, bears witness to the full range of their extravagant talent.
Thirty examples are packed into two gloriously tuneful hours in Neil Eckersley’s well-drilled production, which runs for four days at The Pheasantry in Chelsea’s Kings Road.
An eclectic mix of love, torch and comic songs, many of them from lesser-known shows like The Act, The Rink, 70, Girls, 70, Flora the Red Menace and Woman of the Year, this revue first ran for a year Off-Broadway in 1991–2.
That was long before The Scottsboro Boys first saw the light of day, so we have to live without representation from that recent West End hit which was one of their last collaborations. But what we do see are the many cracking songs lying part-buried in their less commercial work which don’t get the airings they deserve.
I’ve much enjoyed two fully-staged versions of this revue in the past 18 months, the first marvellously sung and choreographed to utilise the tiny Union Theatre space, the second a fully-fledged song-and-dance show by the triple-threat graduates of the Performance Preparation Academy at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford.
Here we have a no-frills, no spoken-words concert version but with so much wit and characterisation in the material that the performers are able to give full rein to their acting skills.
Kurup, a brilliant lead in the recent tour of Anything Goes and before that Olivier-nominated for her supporting role in The Bodyguard, is right up there with the best, and she simply sizzles in ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret and ‘All That Jazz’ from Chicago (in which she played Velma Kelly a fair while ago in the West End).
The towering Tompsett’s version of the title song from Kiss of the Spider Woman is a dramatic tour de force and a strong contrast to the pathos of ‘Mr Cellophane’ (from Chicago), charmingly acted by Steffan Lloyd-Evans, who also extracts every last crumb from ‘Sara Lee’, that kitschy song about snack-food love from The Act.
Again from Chicago, the ‘Class’ duet is an absolute hoot from Sally Samad and Alexandra Da Silva – “Now no one even says ‘Oops’ when they’re passing their gas” – while Samad does not let down ‘A Quiet Thing’, from one of Kander and Ebb’s least successful shows Flora the Red Menace but maybe the most beautiful song they ever wrote.
Da Silva’s ‘Coloured Lights’ (from The Rink) is a perfectly-pitched joy and not to be confused with ‘My Colouring Book’, the early Barbra Streisand hit that the exciting Kurup makes her own.
‘Arthur in the Afternoon’, that naughty ode to mid-day adultery written for K&E favourite Liza Minnelli to sing in The Act, a 1977 musical doomed because of the eccentric behaviour of its troubled star, is another witty highlight in Samad’s assured hands, while the other two ladies got together for the equally amusing ‘The Grass is Greener’ (from Woman of the Year), a personal favourite among an evening full of favourites.
Rounding off the show with two mega-hits from Cabaret, the title song and ‘Money, Money’, and a cheekily multi-lingual ‘New York, New York’, this is a first-class job all round, with considerable assistance from musical director Kris Rawlinson, a very accomplished pianist, backed up by Adam Smith on bass and David Talisman on drums.
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