Thursday, July 12, 2012

The World Goes ‘Round, Porthouse Theatre

(Lisa Kuhnen leading the Cabaret crew.)

There is something slightly perverse about building a stage show around songs collected from a particular composer’s oeuvre.

Since those songs were all intended to further the storytelling of the play they were written for, isolating them in an entirely different environment is a bit like leaving your child on a strange street corner and then driving away. (Okay, it’s not like that at all, but you take my point.)

Still, these shows exist and as the genre goes, The World Goes ‘Round now at Porthouse Theatre is a particularly enjoyable example of the species. Featuring the melodies and lyrics by, respectively, John Kander and Fred Ebb, it features ditties from their blockbuster shows such as Cabaret, Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

A phalanx of more than 30 songs is performed by this summer’s collection of Porthouse young people—college-age actors singers and dancers who often demonstrate talents that belie their tender years.

Overall, these kids are being taught well, as each approaches his or her songs with a clear intent to tell a story, not just hit notes and navigate cascading trills. Even though the results are sometimes mixed, this cast has their priorities correctly ordered.

For instance, Lauren Culver kicks things off with a powerful rendition of the title song. And Jennie Nasser shines throughout, particularly on ”How Lucky Can You Get” from Funny Lady and “A Quiet Thing” from Flora, The Red Menace.

Likewise, Lisa Kuhnen delivers on all fronts with humor (in “The Grass Is Always Greener” with the comical Anastasia Arnold) and in a capable (although not particularly decadent) version of “Cabaret.”

Lucy Anders turns in an affecting “My Coloring Book” and Mackenzie Duan does what she can with “Isn’t This Better,” a lame song out of its Funny Lady context that is performed concert-style with “Maybe This Time” (Culver) and “We Can Make It” (Samuel Rohloff). Duan fares better in the funny “Class,” swilling drinks with a plotzed Culver as they lament (urp!) the lack of sophistication around them.

The men also have their moments although they have notably fewer solos. For example, Kyle Kemph gets lip-smacking laughs with an ode to “Sara Lee,” and later he raises a few neck hairs with his stirring “Kiss of the Spider Woman. ”

But the talented Jack O’Brien isn’t fragile enough to make the lovely “Mr. Cellophane” evoke the right amount of compassion—even with a clever ending. Michael Glavan, Parke Fech, and Nathan Mohebbi (who does an excellent mute version of The Fonz in “Arthur in the Afternoon”) all contribute mightily to the ensemble numbers.

And one of those, “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” is a verifiable showstopper. But don’t come late, it’s the third song.

Director and choreographer Sean Morrissey has tutored his charges well, and come up with some inventive staging twists that keep things interesting. The result is a plethora of musical delights, just right for a summer evening.

The World Goes ‘Round
Through July 21 at the Porthouse Theatre, Blossom Music campus,
 1145 W. Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls,

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