Musical theater fans whose hearts belong to the intricate work of Stephen Sondheim would doubtless disagree, but for sheer entertainment and emotion, few things beat the old razzle dazzle of songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb.
The 1991 Off-Broadway revue "The World Goes 'Round," made up of more than two dozen numbers from the legendary Broadway team's hits and misses, provides abundant proof of their gifts, particularly Kander's glorious melodic flair and Ebb's wittily insightful lyrics.
After tackling Sondheim last season, MNM Productions is capping off the summer with an inspired production of "The World Goes 'Round" at the Kravis Center's Rinker Playhouse, home to the company's great production of "Hair" in May-June.
Working with the template of a revue conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson, director Bruce Linser and his team have put together a show with dramatic depth, lighter-than-air comedy and superb interpretation of songs. Musical director Paul Reekie and choreographer Kimberly Dawn Smith, artists at the top of their game, contribute impressively excellent work. But it is Linser's moment-to-moment vision and his work with five great actor-singers that elevate this take on "The World Goes 'Round."
Go to the show and you'll hear numbers from Kander and Ebb's greatest hits – "Cabaret," "Chicago," "Kiss of the Spider Woman" – along with delectable songs from "Woman of the Year," "The Act," "The Rink," "Zorba," "Flora the Red Menace" and "70, Girls, 70," plus songs from the movies "Funny Lady" and "New York, New York" and the television special "Liza With a 'Z,'" as well as the duo's pop hit "My Coloring Book."
In solo turns, different combinations and as an ensemble, performers Jinon Deeb, Leah Sessa, Shelley Keelor, Michael Scott Ross and Clay Cartland don't just sing the heck out of each number. They nail the drama, comedy and emotion of the songs, illuminating Linser's thematic subtext, much of it having to do with love, betrayal and loss.
Set against Cindi Taylor's painted backdrop, which shows the world shining through a sizable hole in a brick wall framed by parted red curtains, the show is presented as a cabaret, with Reekie at the grand piano and four terrific musicians doing their thing upstage.
Deeb kicks the show off with a rendition of the title song that starts out almost contemplative then builds to the kind of over-the-top finish that made Liza Minnelli such a great fit for Kander and Ebb's material. Soon comes "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup," a hyper-caffeinated comic condemnation of our too-rushed lifestyle that has the jittery cast singing faster and faster.
Keelor takes a warmly nostalgic turn in "Colored Lights" from "The Rink," as young Olivia Rose Chiampou roller skates to the music, portraying the little girl Keelor's character once was. Ross is endearingly funny as he sings an ode to his favorite gal, "Sara Lee" (yes, she of the frozen pastry empire).
Sessa and Cartland (and the clever imagination of choreographer Smith) turn "Arthur in the Afternoon," about a woman who enjoys, um, matinees, into a hilariously sexy romp. As Sessa sings, the ripped Cartland does pushups, then artfully tosses her around as though she weighs nothing (she is a tiny woman). Sexercise, anyone?
Cartland gets intensely dramatic with the musically challenging title song from "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Sessa contributes a beautiful rendition of "A Quiet Thing" and a dramatically rich version of "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret." She, Cartland and Ross get their Bob Fosse on – jazz hands! – as they perform "All That Jazz" from "Chicago."
One of the cleverest bits happens when the increasingly annoyed Cartland, Sessa and Ross silently enact the Roxie Hart arrest scene from "Chicago" while Keelor and Deeb, playing late-arriving and extremely noisy theatergoers, sing the comically crass "Class" from the same show.
Other gems: Deeb playing a single New York gal who travels the world to find true love in "Ring Them Bells"; Keelor and Deeb comparing their lives via "The Grass Is Always Greener;" a jazzy Manhattan Transfer-style version of "Cabaret"; musical director Reekie being totally ignored as he sings that anthem to invisibility, "Mr. Cellophane."
Jason Tomasheski's lighting, Kenny Reiss' sound design and Linda Shorrock's costumes are, like the other elements of the show, wonderful. As a late-summer treat and bridge into the new season, "The World Goes 'Round" is one fine Kander and Ebb celebration.
"The World Goes 'Round" runs through Aug. 21 in the Rinker Playhouse at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Tickets cost $45 and $60. To order, call 561-832-7469 or go to www.kravis.org.