The renaissance of Bucks County Playhouse is ongoing, and it’s something to behold. After “Mame” and the superb “Mothers and Sons,” the reborn Playhouse offers us a classic revue in “The World Goes ‘Round,” a collection of songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb. This assortment of musical theater bonbons is well curated, expertly presented, and a good deal of fun. It is another wise choice and solid presentation in the theater’s continuing evolution.
Best known for “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” Kander and Ebb’s work goes considerably deeper than those two blockbusters. “The World Goes ‘Round” was originally conceived by Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman, and David Thompson, the same creative forces behind Kander and Ebb’s Broadway runs of “Chicago” and “Steel Pier.” The title comes from a “New York, New York” song that Liza Minnelli popularized — and that is in keeping with the tone of the evening. It is a snazzy, at times splashy, and playfully witty selection of songs and scenes, and it is directed by Don Stephenson with no shortage of pizzazz befitting Kander and Ebb’s trademark mix of sexy playfulness with just a hint of noir.
The Bucks County Playhouse has once again pulled out the big guns and employed A-list talent on its stage. Particularly notable are Emily Skinner and Tom Hewitt, Broadway heavyweights, at the core of this cast. Skinner’s take on “Colored Lights” (from “The Rink”) is sublime, and Hewitt’s rendition of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” is as powerful and nuanced as any version I have ever heard. Janine DiVita, Michelle Aravena, and David Josefsberg round out the cast, with Josefsberg in particular showing sparkle in the comic moments.
Where this revue really succeeds is where a lot of similarly conceived evenings often fail: the songs are well arranged and presented in ways that give them new luster and shine beyond the context of their original shows. Three very different songs from different shows, “Maybe This Time,” “We Can Make It,” and “Isn’t This Better,” are woven together into a trio that really shines a light on the yearning and earnest joy for life found at the core of much of Kander and Ebb’s work; it is a thematic linking that the cast just sells the hell out of, and it is fun to watch if you aren’t familiar with Kander and Ebb’s work and revelatory if you are.
The idea of reimagining these songs becomes an interesting double-edged sword at points, however, when one considers that “Chicago” in particular is now a huge part of American pop culture; a quieter, more low-key rendition of “All That Jazz” is well performed, but it’s almost as if we want the panache and decadent lust from the Rob Marshall film. It is a paradox to consider, to be sure, but the evening as a whole keeps this a trifling consideration amid a feast of beautiful songs.
Bucks County Playhouse has thus far hit on all points this season, and that’s no small feat. I am always excited to see what new element they’re going to add next, and each new show feels a little like unwrapping a gift.
The amenities they continue to add are lovely, as well, with al fresco tables out front and a charming bar area overlooking the water out back. The bathrooms, while perhaps inadequately small for a theater of this size, are also just about the most gorgeous I’ve seen at any venue, for what it’s worth.
There remains, however, a persistent challenge to enjoying shows at the Playhouse, and that’s parking. To park at McCarter Theater Center in Princeton costs, at maximum, $10 for valet parking; Milburn’s Paper Mill Playhouse offers parking for $8. Bucks County Playhouse has a variety of options that range from an exorbitant $15 to $20. This is, of course, reflective of the difficult parking situation in New Hope, but it’s also enough of an expense to stop and think about the added cost to an evening of theater, which is a shame. This, and the other offerings this season, are good enough that something as trivial as the economics of parking should not play into the decision.
The World Goes ‘Round, Bucks County Playhouse, 70 South Main Street, New Hope. Through Sunday, July 21, Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 8 p.m., Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. $29 to $57.50. 215-862-2121 or www.bcptheater.org.