Mood is everything in the musical revue, where plot is nonexistent, the characters fleeting, and context can only be hinted at. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Jungle Theater’s current production of “And the World Goes ’Round,” a collection of mostly obscure songs arising from the partnership of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb.
The two wrote a string of middling musicals, a number of stand-alone songs and a few brilliant works such as “Cabaret” and “Chicago” beginning in the 1960s and extending into the 1990s. “And the World Goes ’Round” strings together more than two dozen songs culled from their oeuvre into a two-act revue that provides glimpses and snatches of their eclectic style.
Bain Boehlke’s simple set for this work features a glowing New York skyline, with an onstage orchestra nestled in a corner. It’s an appropriately neutral backdrop for the urbane, mildly witty and cynically sophisticated mood of many of these songs, beginning with “And the World Goes ’Round,” a world-weary paean to resilience from Martin Scorsese’s film musical “New York, New York.”
The seven-member ensemble provides plenty of nice moments over the course of the show. Therese Walth does a lovely job with the challenging “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret,” delivering it with bittersweet and thoughtful poignancy. William Gilness turns “Marry Me” into a fleeting vignette of achingly hopeful yearning and self-deprecation, while the blending of his rendition of “Sometimes a Day Goes By” with Bradley Greenwald’s “I Don’t Remember You” creates a beautifully lyric interval. The rest of the ensemble — Betti Battocletti, Tiffany Seymour, Emily Rose Skinner and Jon Whittier — shine in various numbers, while Raymond Berg’s musical direction provides strong support throughout.
Unfortunately, for everything that works here, there’s plenty that doesn’t. Director John Command has assembled seven strong singers, but they’re not dancers and it shows. Too many numbers feature clunky choreography in which stepping back and forth while displaying the suggestion of jazz hands substitutes for cohesive movement.
This lack of pizazz is most apparent in the big numbers, like “And All That Jazz” and “Life Is,” where all the fine singing talent on display is diffused by the awkward movements.
Other technical difficulties exacerbate the show’s flaws, including a blasting level of sound that often overwhelms the songs’ nuances and a lighting design by Jesse Cogswell that frequently leaves singers dodging shadows as they wander the stage.
There’s no doubting the amount of singing talent on the Jungle’s stage for “And the World Goes ’Round” and this exploration of the lesser-known corners of Kander and Ebb is intriguing at times. It’s unfortunate that the strengths are too often undermined by the weaknesses.
Lisa Brock is a Minneapolis writer.