Theater Review: ‘The World Goes ’Round’ Paints Portrait of Life Through Song

Each song adds a piece of the story to the blended Kander and Ebb musical

Alexa J. Bush

The World Goes ’Round, directed by Josh S.E. Wright ’05, is a wildly bounding and fun masterpiece of modern design. The music —a well-balanced blend of live keyboard and resounding lyrics—drives the show, and the cast’s sweeping limb extensions, artful poses, swaying heads and accentuated facial expressions are congruent with the musical dynamic. But do not be fooled by its straightforward presentation. The World Goes ’Round, chock-full of cutting wit and daring sexual innuendo, is fresh and racy to the core.

The show has no actual storyline and all of the dialogue occurs in song (vocal direction by Alexis Z. Tumolo ’06). But the actors still manage to exude strong, individualized stage presence. Liberated from scripted characters, it seems as though they are actually playing exaggerated versions of themselves. Each actor portrays a variety of characters during the course of the show, with some assuming names while others remain generic (i.e. housewife). Because characters come and go within the space of one song, individuality is marked not by any abiding and consistent creation of scripted identity but rather by the actors’ own idiosyncratic performance styles.

This delicious mélange of self-expression and artistic interpretation is at its most titillating during a duet called “The Grass is Always Greener” between Cassis, assuming the role of a glam celebrity, and Sarah E. Stein ’08, posing as a housewife clad in curlers and a bathrobe. Cassis and Stein begin the number with a subtle double entendre involving Cassis’ mink stole, and precisely at this moment the glee and giddiness that bubbled just beneath the surface all evening manifests itself in their uncontrollable giggling. It took the actors about a minute to regain their composure, and what a wonderfully unguarded and rich minute it was.

The actors’ bold effervescence, both in song and in action, carries the show, infusing it with provocative verbal and kinesthetic inflection. Anonymous character JC Cassis ’06 blurts out “I voted for John Kerry” during one number. Lane D. Levine ’06 takes on the musical’s burlesque motif, drawing circles in the air with his well-toned glutes as boy-toy Arthur in “Arthur in the Afternoon.”

Unencumbered by the temporal considerations of plot development, Wright succeeds in setting his production very much in-the-moment. The tunes glide smoothly into each other, but are not at all codependent, which enables the audience to appreciate each number individually without regard to the past or the future. An existential thread holds the show together. The title track and opening number (brilliantly executed by Cassis) expresses nature’s disregard for human travail, with lyrics like “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.” Variations on this theme recur toward the end of the production, creating a unified, circular whole.

Despite its lack of plot, The World Goes ’Round holds the audience in rapt attention by supplying plenty of vivid lyrical gems complemented by provocative gestures and gyrations.

Set, lighting, and costume is kept to a minimum; the strings of colored lights that sparkle at select moments are the jazziest prop. The emphasis is on the actors’ faces, voices, and motions—the effect is at times orgiastic. The caffeine-induced frenetic energy that escalates in “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” climaxes in sexy “Arthur in the Afternoon,” in which Cassis and Levine cannot seem to get enough of one another. Each number tells a short story, and taken together they paint an ironic portrait of modern life.

The audience experiences moments of scandalized amusement interspersed with unsentimental sympathy (the musical also treats loftier themes such as love lost and found), with a generalized envy of the actors and their vivaciousness. Their dynamic characters—which are more accurately described as character sketches—experience emotional highs and lows, yet retain a palpable zest for life despite an array of hinted-at trials and tribulations.

Through it all the seasons cycle, the planet spins, and the world goes round. It blends the local with the global. “Sometimes you lose every nickel you had, but the world goes ‘round.” A luminescent orange globe is a fixture in the background, as is pianist Ben E. Green ’06, whose keyboard stands directly behind the glowing sphere. The two enjoy a mutually reinforcing relationship. The World Goes ’Round is, therefore, a successful attempt to localize all the world to the musical stage.