Nearly 50 years after they made their Broadway debuts, the songwriting team of Kander and Ebb may not have the widespread name recognition of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
But audiences certainly know their music.
Even the first few notes of a piano vamp from “New York, New York” gets you ready to “start spreading the news.” Audiences have taken countless trips to the “Cabaret” and sung along for years to the jaunty melody of “All That Jazz” from “Chicago.”
The Academy Award-winning film versions of “Cabaret” and “Chicago” certainly made their work more familiar, and the still-running Broadway revival of “Chicago” is still doing its part.
And no one can say that Florida Studio Theatre hasn’t tried to spread the word. The company is producing its third production of the hit off-Broadway revue “The World Goes Round” since 1993.
The 1991 revue features songs from “Flora the Red Menace,” “The Happy Time,” “Zorba,” “Cabaret,” “70 Girls 70,” “Chicago,” “The Act,” “Woman of the Year,” and “The Rink” as well as specialty material, like “Ring Them Bells,” they wrote primarily for Liza Minnelli.
“They are a remarkable team,” said director Gabriel Barre, who got to work with the songwriters on one of their last shows before Ebb’s death in 2004. It was “All About Us,” a musical inspired by Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.”
“They took their work very seriously. There are some up and coming writing teams that are very exciting, but there was no writing team like them before and I can’t imagine there will be another one like them in the future,” said Barre. “It’s hard for people to stay together as a couple personally or professionally for that long.”
Before Broadway, they got their career started with Barbra Streisand’s 1962 hit “My Coloring Book,” which offered a sample of the way they could convey melancholy in romance in their songs.
But they are probably better known for the show business aura that permeates their shows. Almost all of them are set in an entertainment environment, from the vaudeville-style showcase of “Chicago,” to the nightclubs and concert stages of “Cabaret” and “The Act,” to the roller skating rink in “The Rink,” the world of television news and comic strips in “Woman of the Year” and the musicians and singers who populated the film “New York, New York.”
That Martin Scorcese movie is where Liza Minnelli introduced the song “And the World Goes Round,” a bitter and biting song about taking knocks and getting back up.
“Somebody loses and somebody wins and one day it’s kicks, then it’s kicks in the shins, but the planet spins and the world goes ‘round and ‘round,” Ebb’s lyrics tell us.
That song gives this revue its title, which Barre and his five singing cast members believe is one of the best at capturing the essence and style of the songwriters and creating its own world with its song selection and arrangements.
Artistic Director Richard Hopkins has said “The World Goes Round” is his second favorite revue after “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” He said, “They just got it right.”
Singer Peter Gosik said that “a lot of times, revues get a bad rap, like a greatest-hits CD. But with this show, it feels like there is a reason for it to be there. It has something to say.”
The creators of the show — director Scott Ellis, choreographer Susan Stroman and librettist David Thompson — avoided making it a stereotypical “and then they wrote” biographical show, Barre said. “They wanted the songs to exist on their own, to take you into the world of the songs.”
Carey Anderson said the show and the songs have a musical complexity which adds to the sense of substance. “The arrangements are deep. Sometimes I think revues are shallow, but this one goes in deep, as if you were investing yourself in a typical musical or play. There’s a lot there.”
The idea, Barre and cast members said, is to give a new sound and style to even the most familiar songs.
Gosik and Anderson share the stage with three other newcomers to FST, Lauren Blackman, Zak Edwards and Taprena Augustine. In addition to Barre, they’re working with choreographer D.J. Gray and musical director Frank Lindquist.
Lindquist said almost every song in the show uses words people use every day in ordinary conversations, “but they touch extraordinary emotions. Rehearsing it you may see levels of intensity and breaking down, that makes it look easy to the audiences but these guys are working really hard.
Anderson said the music and the arrangements by David Loud are so complex that she actually wondered “what the hell am I doing in this show?” after she was cast. That’s because she sings several songs originated by Minnelli, who made her Broadway debut in “Flora the Red Menace” and was the singer of choice for Kander and Ebb.
“I’m obviously nothing like Liza Minnelli. My interpretation of things come from a different style. But I’m not intimidated. I’m mostly inspired. I’m not worried about living up to that.
Minnelli does cast a shadow for some of the performers. Augustine said she wasn’t as familiar with the show’s title song as she was others in the revue. So she watched clips from “New York, New York.”
“I remember watching it like the third time and I had to go, wow, the nuances that she found as an actress, the discoveries that you could see in her eyes. It was beautiful and intimidating, but I was also encouraged and inspired to see how far I can take it.”
The revue mixes bright and bouncy songs, like “How Lucky Can You Get” from “Funny Lady,” or “The Money Song” from “Cabaret” with touching ballads that include “I Don’t Remember You,” “Marry Me,” and “We Can Make It.” And then there are comical ditties that tell stories, like “Ring Them Bells,” about a woman who travels around the world to meet the man who lives next door, or “Sara Lee,” an ode to the frozen-pastry maker.
Barre said the show is “unabashedly entertainment, but it’s resonant and emotional.”
Even those familiar with much of the music should hear something different in this revue, Edwards said.
“Every song is surprising. There’s a little subtext that’s odd or interesting,” he said. “It’s never just a cute love song; everything has depth and interest and surprise to it.”
Liza Minnelli performing "New York, New York" in a 1991 concert:
Liza Minnelli sings "But the World Goes Round" in her concert "Liza's at the Palace":