Musicals – we love them or hate them, or can’t decide. That’s why some genius invented the musical revue, to strip away the dreaded sappy plot and connecting dialogue until all that’s left are the greatest hits.
In The World Goes ‘Round, The Songs of Kander and Ebb at the AVO Playhouse, five performers burst into 30 songs, including smash hits from Chicago and Cabaret, and lesser known gems from nearly forgotten shows such as The Rink.
In her Avo debut, Chelsea Franko’s voice and comic timing shine brightly in “Colored Lights.” She sings about memories of California –“I was sitting on a sand-dune in Santa Cruz…” Oh darn, she gets places and names of boyfriends mixed up. Her ditzy delivery is reminiscent of Ellen Degeneres as Dory the dopy blue fish in the film Finding Nemo. Better yet, Franko can sing.
She joins Marlene Montes in “The Grass is Always Greener,” from the Tony-winning Woman of the Year. Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Cooper sang the nasally tune on Broadway in 1981, and they took it slower. Franko and Montes handled the back and forth lyrics wonderfully on opening night until the third or fourth “What’s so wonderful…” but recovered swiftly and in good form.
Montes is well cast for “My Coloring Book,” a classic from the 60s recorded by Barbra Streisand. Montes and Franko are loveable raunchy boozers in “Class” from Chicago. Part of the thrill is watching them teeter on the edge of a riser.
Crafted around the title tune, “And the World Goes ‘Round” from the film New York, New York, the revue has an optimistic message.
Kander’s catchy melodies, Ebb’s witty lyrics, and simple dance numbers tie comical songs and wistful ballads together. By the second half, your head will spin like the disco ball overhead. You may wish for a little dialogue, stronger dancing, and edgier costumes, but can’t help but love Moonlight Stage Production’s fun little revue.
Acclaimed musical director Elan McMahan’s piano interpretations performed live on stage, accented by Mark Phelps on bass, are splendid. Vocal harmonies are rich with unexpected counterpoints.
Benjamin Lopez leads the cast in “Pain,” the hilarious song and dance spoof that makes fun of plies, Martha Graham, and conceited windbag choreographers. The group ends up dancing with crutches. Lopez shows his serious side and vocal range in “Spider Woman.” With arms outstretched, he nails the higher notes and musical bridge.
Kristen Lamoreux (seen in Moonlight’s Hairspray and Young Frankenstein) is pretty in pink and red halter dresses and has most of the romantic numbers. She gives it her all in “All the Jazz,” but spread-eagle legs and sex kitten rolls on top of a piano don’t reach the level of Fosse’s cool syncopation. Dance aficionados have to imagine slow sinks into the hips, head rolls, and arms shooting up and down.
Casey Garritano made good use of a raspy voice on opening night, bringing emotional layers to “Mr. Cellophane,” a song about a loser nobody sees. Hot tea and lemon must have worked because he was right as rain in Act II. Partnering with Lamoureux, he shared the awkward and cringe inducing marriage proposal of “Marry Me.”
Director and choreographer David Engel takes inventive liberties in the show with mixed results. The cast pretends to roller skate in the tune “The Rink.” It’s a weird song in the realm of Dr. Seuss – “I wanna go around the rink I think…” – but there’s more chugging than an illusion of skating. The finale becomes chaotic and a tad clunky amid muddled foreign languages. It’s tough to dance and sing at the same time.
Spoiler Alert: During “Me and My Baby,” the cast zooms over the stage with vintage prams and strollers, which drastically lightens the tone from the original in Chicago. Lighting tricks (Paul Canaletti, Jr.) illuminate faces in “Cabaret” which grows to a swirl of complex voices.
While the dancing is overly stiff and rarely seems easy, the exuberant cast will surely loosen up throughout the run. Unexpected overlaps make familiar songs feel new. Those who’ve never heard of Kander and Ebb will enjoy their music. There’s a tip jar on McMahan’s piano – you’ll feel compelled to give her one.
The World Goes ‘Round closes Moonlight’s winter season at the AVO and runs through April 6. www.Moonlightstage.com.