- The Washington Times - Friday, June 11, 2004

Round House Theatre’s rousing production of “The World Goes ‘Round” does everything but give you free ice cream cones and foot rubs in an effort to win you over.

The socko Broadway compositions of John Kander and Fred Ebb — they are the words-and-music-team who gave us “Cabaret,” “Chicago,” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” to name a few, not to mention that obscure little ditty “New York, New York” — are selling points in themselves. But the theater has gone one step further in assembling a dream cast of musical theater veterans: Sherri L. Edelen, Will Gartshore, Jane Pesci-Townsend, Mary Jayne Raleigh, and Gary E. Vincent.

With such can’t-miss material and a superior troupe, you’d think “The World Goes ‘Round” would take a simple, laid-back approach to this musical retrospective. You’d think wrong. Directors Jerry Whiddon and Patdro Harris pull out all the stops and then some for this extravaganza.

Nearly every number has a gimmick; some bring new energy and excitement to the Broadway standards, and some don’t.

“Me & My Baby,” a light and hummable tune, is enlivened by a Dixieland finale where the actors whip out banjos from baby carriages and play in tandem. “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” becomes an espresso-fueled delight as the foursome sings faster and faster with every caffeinated chorus. The jazzed-up approach also works well in “There Goes the Ball Game” and “And the World Goes ‘Round,” with the cast showing off their seamless harmonizing.

Chippendale-like moves from Mr. Gartshore (playing an urban gigolo), combined with ballroom dancing steps gracefully executed by Miss Raleigh, bring naughty glee to “Arthur in the Afternoon,” a song that contains the immortal line, “I take coffee in the morning, bran in the evening, and Arthur in the afternoon.”

Most winning are the duets by Miss Edelen and Miss Pesci-Townsend, especially in “Class,” a tune from “Chicago” that mockingly laments the lack of civility in modern society. The two actresses are dolled up like bowling alley floozies, knocking back beers while they kvetch in Brooklynese about why no one says “thank you” or “please” anymore. Miss Edelen does a variation on the comic low-class character in the number “The Grass Is Always Greener” (from “Woman of the Year”), where a rich celebrity (Miss Pesci-Townsend) and a frowzy housewife envy each other’s lifestyles.

Sometimes, the urge to trump up every tune falls flat.

For “The Rink,” the directors have everyone tearing around Daniel Conway’s busy, fussy set on roller skates, and some of the actors are so awkward and look so terrified you fear for their safety, and any childlike magic is lost. The day-glo effects used in “Money, Money” are just plain goofy and sophomoric, as is the idea that every surface in the number “Ring Them Bells” needed to be covered in brass chimes.

“Marry Me” and “A Quiet Thing” are not enhanced by a schmaltzy and clunky modern dance pas de deux between Miss Phillips and Mr. Vincent. But wait — it gets worse. For the encore, the cast spins a globe and then sings lines from “New York, New York” in foreign languages, and the cringe-factor spirals into the stratosphere.

The revue’s unadorned moments work beautifully: Miss Edelen’s hushed “My Coloring Book,” the dashing romance of Mr. Gartshore’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Miss Pesci-Townsend’s delicately rueful “Colored Lights” and Mr. Vincent’s poignant clowning in “Mr. Cellophane.”

With a wildly capable cast and the Kander and Ebb songbook, Round House needn’t have tried so hard. A restrained approach to “The World Goes ‘Round” might have resulted in an evening less eager and more pleasing.

**1/2

WHAT: “The World Goes ‘Round” by John Kander and Fred Ebb

WHERE: Round House Theatre, East-West Highway at Waverly Street, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through July 3.

TICKETS: $29 to $39

PHONE: 240/644-1100

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