Director John Command’s production of “And the World Goes ’Round,” a revue of songs by composer John Kander (b. 1927) and lyricist Fred Ebb (1928-2004), opened Friday at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. We chatted with Command, 70, about his history with the composers and about what makes Kander and Ebb so special.
Q: What’s your history with Kander and Ebb?
A: I love the movie of “Cabaret.” It’s my favorite film. I remember sitting in the movie theater when it first came out lo those many years ago and just melting inside. The score, the story, the choreography — it’s all so gorgeous. It still inspires me. I’ve directed “Cabaret” and “Chicago” twice. I performed the Emcee in “Cabaret” in club shows in Vegas and L.A. It’s all a sweet swirl of history for me.
Q: Do you get the same heft in this revue as you would from one of the musicals?
A: A lot of people don’t care for revues — I get that. They go, “Where’s the plot?” For me, this is a celebration of great music. Kander and Ebb was one of the greatest songwriting teams we’ve ever had. The nice thing about a revue, too, is that it gives performers a chance to be themselves, to show their real humanity onstage. They’re not really their characters. They’re just interpreting the songs. So they can wear wedding rings and be themselves.
Q: Do you have a favorite Kander and Ebb musical?
A: Two: “Cabaret” and “Chicago.” I’ve always had a nice close spot for them because I saw both of them so early on, and they both made a great impression on me. I saw the original “Cabaret” back in the ’60s, and “Chicago” in the ’70s. I had friends in the cast, so I had really good seats. And I was just swept away.
I’m also crazy about the music in “Flora, the Red Menace,” which is heavy and dramatic. Really, I love Kander and Ebb through and through.
Q: What made this songwriting team so special?
A: They didn’t always agree on things, but they got along well. When someone like Sondheim collaborated with others, it could be tough going, especially if the collaborators had divergent ideas. Rodgers and Hammerstein disagreed a lot, and that is true for a lot of composer duos. But Kander and Ebb were very close and thought alike. That’s what Liza [Minnelli] told me. She made her Broadway debut in “Flora, the Red Menace” and was very close to them.
Q: That closeness showed in the songs?
A: Absolutely. Kander and Ebb were able to make shows out of weird, challenging ideas. “Chicago” is about a murderer, a sexy one, but at the end of the day, she’s a killer. “Cabaret” is about the world closing in on folks in Nazi Germany. They took on these heavy topics and the material turned out. Really, just about every song they write is like a one-act play. That’s what Liza likes to say, and she’s right. Their numbers track the play structure, with a beginning, middle and dramatic end. The audience is in for 26 plays, but luckily, we kept it kind of tidy. It’s going to be just over two hours.
Q: Who have you got in your cast?
A: Well, the incomparable Bradley Greenwald. And Jon Whittier, my husband, is in the show. So is Bill Gilness, who played Javert in “Les Miz” out at Bloomington Civic a few years ago, and Tiffany Seymour, who played Hope Gladwell in “Urinetown.”
We also have Therese Walth, who played Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray” out at Chanhassen, Betti Battocletti and the delightful Emily Rose Skinner.
You can do it with five people, and it’s been done with as many as nine or 10. I try to divvy up the material and make all of them move. They’re not dancers naturally, but they’re looking pretty good. I try to evoke Fosse.