Individual songs plucked from Broadway shows frequently cannot stand on their own. Absent situational context, they can fall short in creating the emotional connection or sense of story and message a successful song needs.
Fortunately, the songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb has a 45-year body of work that includes character- and sentiment-filled songs that can each tell a story. Several dozen of these are collected under the title "The World Goes 'Round," now onstage at Little Theatre of Alexandria.
Kander's and Ebb's work has graced scores of Broadway shows and movies, and they are currently riding a wave of attention, as their music for "Chicago" helped to propel the film version of the play to Oscar-winning status.
In 1991, Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson gathered their favorite Kander and Ebb songs for an off-Broadway revue, re-created here. Directed by Adriana Hardy, with musical direction by Christopher A. Tomasino and Jacob Wolfe Kidder, this is an accessible, audience-friendly presentation. The music, choreography and staging are all competent; any weaknesses lie in the uneven performance levels of the ensemble cast.
The focus is on the songs, with no dialogue. Robert Gray's abstract set is a series of rounded steps on each side of the stage leading to a bridge, under which the orchestra is nestled. Columns of sheer cloth rise, flanking the steps and radiating within them a variety of bright lights designed by AnnMarie Castrigno.
At the top of the show, there is the sound of a few piano notes, and then Dan Herrel and Jennifer Lambert launch into the first number, the title song "And the World Goes 'Round" from "New York, New York."
Herrel has a sweet, Broadway show tune voice while Lambert doesn't have quite the range this song needs, experiencing difficulty negotiating the lower notes in a fairly low-key arrangement of the song. The title tune is associated with Liza Minnelli, as are many of the songs in the show, and anyone who saw her belting it in concert during her prime may find this tame version wanting.
Karen Jadlos Shotts gets to make an appropriate star entrance for the third song, leading the ensemble in "Colored Lights," a mellow waltz from Minnelli's "The Rink." A fiery performer who can project her personality to the back rows, Shotts should have sung the opening number, along with the second act's "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret," another Minnelli anthem, performed instead by Lorraine Magee, whose weaker voice and limited range force her to shout, rather than sing, the big notes.
Other highlights include the lovely duet medley "I Don't Remember You/Sometimes a Day Goes By" from "The Happy Time," sung by Jeff Obermiller, coiffed in an unfortunate matted, 70s-style mullet, and Herrel. That's followed by Shotts, dressed in flapper finery, leading the ensemble in a rip-roaring "All That Jazz" from "Chicago," with choreography from Robyn C. Avalon that pays the requisite homage to Bob Fosse but is looser and more expressive.
There is comedy, too. Brian Somers displays a pleasant tenor in the humorous salute to confection, "Sara Lee," complete with double entendres and accompanied by an apron-clad Lambert and Magee, who guide the lead-footed singer through some simple choreography.
Jan Forman, otherwise underutilized, adroitly handles the comic "Ring Them Bells" that starts Act Two and is followed by a string of forgettable numbers, including a passionless "Kiss of the Spider Woman" sung by Obermiller and Magee.
Things gel for the final four songs, all performed by the ensemble and including a slower than usual version of "Cabaret" that highlights intricate harmonies reminiscent of The Manhattan Transfer and a clever, atypical interpretation of "Theme from 'New York, New York.' " The audience leaves happy.
"The World Goes 'Round," by Little Theatre of Alexandria, runs through April 26 at 600 Wolfe St. Showtime is 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, with matinees at 3 p.m. Sundays.For tickets or information, call 703-683-0496.