West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Opened 6 December, 1995

John Kander and Fred Ebb are probably the greatest current exponents of the American musical, with the sole exception of the Blessed Sondheim. However, the opening night of this compilation show turned out to be a slight case of "Hamlet without the prince" (and I don't mean Harold Prince).

Director Jude Kelly's pre-curtain announcement was, she assured us, "partly good news": performer Michelle Dixon, whose laryngitis had reduced her to miming through the previews, would tonight attempt a few of her numbers. Even reduced to a husk of its full-throated self, it is evident that Dixon has a remarkable gospel voice which, when restored, could see off all comers, and fully justifies casting this relative unknown in the central role.

Ah, but herein lies the problem. The World Goes 'Round is 100% song and dance: no book, no explicit narrative. Characterisations and relationships are to be inferred from the musical programming. With a clutch of Dixon's numbers re-assigned to Fiona Hendley and former Wham!-ster Pepsi Lawrie Demacque, this dramatic house of cards collapses: it becomes impossible to unravel who is supposed to be confiding in or lamenting over whom.

It remains an expertly assembled entertainment, building up to finales of "Cabaret" and "New York, New York" in Acts One and Two respectively. Hendley and Glyn Kerslake are seasoned musical performers the former concentrating on grinning kookiness, the latter more versatile in mood and delivering the bitterest rendition of "Mr Cellophane" I have ever heard.
Pianist and musical director Warren Wills and his rhythm section are joined by florid flamenco guitarist Esteban Antonio to produce a Hispano-jazz hybrid which is at times bizarre but far from unpleasant. RJC Dance Theatre Company supply a complement of fluid movement, for the most part of a jazz-contemporary nature, although in the second half each dancer briefly showcases his or her particular physical idiom.

Comprising as it does three distinct groups, the company takes some time to gel; only early in Act Two, with the title song from Kiss Of The Spiderwoman, do the dancers get their first opportunity to do much more than simply augment the songs. But a definite camaraderie does emerge, and one consisting of more than Kelly's directions to the performers to cheer one another on.

Nevertheless, Dixon's indisposition deals a heavy blow to narrative coherence. The others shoulder her numbers gamely, but Demacque in particular is visibly uncertain where to put herself on the night-club set during one or two newly acquired songs.
On this showing, it is impossible to judge the evening except by the Song By Song... standards it seemed so determined to transcend. By those standards it is a fine show, though not a momentous one; perhaps in a week or two, audiences will see the more delicate structure that was obviously intended.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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