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ISO World Premiere: On Broadway with Kander & Ebb
The Broadway-show-penning duo behind hits such as Cabaret, Chicago, Curtains, and more elevated the genre—and five special stars did the same to their material.
All the odds are, they’re in my favor
Something’s bound to begin
It’s got to happen, happen sometime
Maybe this time I’ll win
An excerpt from one of Cabaret‘s most recognizable tunes, these lyrics might also stand in as a testament to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s durability and adaptability in trying financial times. Those have been well documented to date, and yet the ISO presses on, putting together timely, world-class performances such as On Broadway with Kander & Ebb, its premiere two-night run of a show set to tour the East Coast soon enough.
John Kander and Fred Ebb—composer and lyricist, respectively—wrote more musicals than did Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein or even Steven Sondheim “and all his personalities,” a fact that conductor Jack Everly, always a pillar of class and panache, duly noted to his audience on Friday night. Appearing with Everly and the ISO were five Broadway stars boasting 30 show credits among them.
In short, this world premiere did not disappoint. Beth Leavel, a Tony Award winner for The Drowsy Chaperone, commanded every song she took on, moving fluidly among touchingly romantic and randy, handsy numbers, from “Married” with Ted Keegan to the playful raunch of “Everybody’s Girl” from Steel Pier.
Keegan himself, well acquainted with The Phantom of the Opera‘s lead role, amusingly feigned panic at the sight of a chandelier at the Hilbert Circle Theatre at the start before tackling big-voice solos more than capably, including “Mr. Cellophane” from Chicago, to which he gave a bit less self-deprecating treatment while delivering the night’s biggest note (with breath to spare, at that).
The show began with Nick Adams, the 30-years-young actor-dancer-singer with a huge smile and rippling biceps. (Does the man have legs for arms?) In a role and song seemingly written for his charm and Cheshire-like grin, he followed the ISO’s overture with Cabaret‘s “Willkommen” and a wry explainer of what was about to transpire over the next hour and 45 minutes.
Highlights included Jessica Rush and Nikki Renée Daniels dueting on Cabaret‘s “Maybe This Time” (lyrics above, of course); Keegan’s take on Kiss of the Spider Woman‘s eponymous number; and the surprising, delightful Act-Two opener that saw Leavel, Adams, Rush, and a talented team of dancers having their way with The Act‘s “City Lights,” a song that Kander and Ebb wrote with muse Liza Minnelli in mind. A few times over the course of the night, Leavel handled Minnelli originals or star-making turns with aplomb and a knowing wink. This woman is Broadway.
The entire cast took part in Chicago‘s “Razzle Dazzle,” a song this writer has never much cared for but enjoyed more than any previous performance (on stage or screen) on this night. Keegan led, with Adams as wingman and the trio of Leavel, Daniels, and Rush (perfect for the role of Roxie Hart) providing all the requisite moxie, and then some. Showgoers giggled with anticipation as Leaval launched into “When You’re Good to Mama,” owning its bravado and unsubtle sexuality.
Costumer Clare Henkel, an Indianapolis native now based in Boulder, Colo., supervised an array of beautiful designs for the cast, including gorgeous purple and lavender looks for Daniels’ gowns and a stunning champagne-colored dress that made Rush shine. This coupled with a tantalizing stage design made for fantastic nonverbal tones amidst all the words and melodies.
If there were a couple shortcomings, they were remedied speedily. The mics for Daniels and Rush were turned down a bit too low for “Maybe This Time,” and Keegan’s piercing voice seemed to be the only one not overpowered at one time or another by the ISO’s sound.
This show has one more performance tonight before traveling out of state, and you’d be wise to see it. What’s more, the ISO has new (read: wider) seats. Thou shalt be comfortable, and thou shalt be entertained.
On Broadway with Kander and Ebb. Hilbert Circle Theatre, 45 Monument Circle. Oct. 5, 8 p.m. Tickets and more information available at www.indianapolissymphony.org.