Thursday, 4 February 2016

The World Goes Round – The Songs of Kander & Ebb at St. James Theatre



Photo credit: Alex Murphy

While I have been to the St. James Theatre plenty of times before, most recently for revues You Won't Succeed on Broadway if You Don't Have Any Jews and Songs For a New World, I'd never actually visited the wonderfully intimate Studio – until this week that is. The World Goes Round perfectly fits inside this cosy space, bringing together some of the finest songs from Broadway songwriting duo Kander & Ebb with the immense talent of West End stars Oliver Tompsett and Debbie Kurup.

Walking into the Studio, the first thing that is noticeable is that this isn't an average auditorium. Instead, the unreserved seating is spread across chairs around tables, bar stools towards the back of the room, and a few rows of banks nearest the bar. I was fortunate to grab one of the last seats in the back as even a good 15 minutes before starting time the best-angled seats had already been snapped up. My top tip for this production would be to arrive early for a bigger choice of seating and to make yourself comfortable with a drink from the bar before the metaphorical curtain goes up.

And as soon as it went up I was in awe of Debbie Kurup who was an absolute powerhouse on that stage, belting her solos with an incredible precision while at other times blending in perfectly during the group numbers. I have seen her recently in Anything Goes (UK Tour) and Jack and the Beanstalk (Hackney Empire's 2015 Panto) but in neither of those shows did she get to shine as much as she did in The World Goes Round and shine she did (and not just because of her sparkling outfit). It was also a real pleasure to see the incredibly versatile Oliver Tompsett (Rock of Ages, We Will Rock You, Wicked) on stage again after far too long, and the West End duo were complemented well by a trio of to me lesser known performers; Steffan-Lloyd Evans, Sally Samad and Alexandra Da Silva.

While I have only seen Kander & Ebb's The Scottsboro Boys and Cabaret on stage myself, I was already familiar with a few of their other shows, so I was surprised by how few of the musical pieces I actual recognised on the night. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, as it's always a joy to discover new music to fall in love with, and they were performed beautifully by the singers. I also want to take a moment to comment on the stunning work of the other musicians on stage. There were just four of them, but switching between a whole host of instruments during the show it was easy to mistake the talented quartet for an entire orchestra.

Unfortunately while all the performers were superb, the show as a whole fell somewhat flat to me. Though the individual songs were bound together by coming from the same songwriting duo, there was no natural flow between the numbers, with a disjointed result, and the lesser-known performances lacked a certain gusto as well. Songs such as All That Jazz, The Rink and New York New York were genuinely fun as with just a few props and silly choreographed moves they were packed with a charming joie de vivre, but these moments were few and far between. 

The World Goes Round is worth the entry ticket for the chance to listen to some legendary musical theatre tunes, such as New York New York, All That Jazz, Mr Cellophane and Cabaret, all on the same evening and performed by a stellar cast of singers and musicians. However, ultimately I left the show feeling that it could've been so much more than a mere collection of tunes. Even a concert staging needs a thread and natural flow running through it, after all, and just because all the musical pieces came from the imagination of the same two people that doesn't automatically make it unified show – and that feels like a missed opportunity.





The World Goes Round – The Songs of Kander & Ebb is running at St. James Theatre until just 7 February 2016, so book your tickets now!



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