As strings of Christmas lights begin to light up dorm rooms across campus, bright, colored lights flood the stage at Byrum Hall. Students of the Schol of Music, Theatre and Dance prepare for the upcoming musical, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “And the World Goes ‘Round,” working diligently to create a show that captures the emotions and moments tied to the idea that, for better or worse, life keeps moving.
“And the World Goes ‘Round” is a musical revue, so it does not have a solid plot or characters. It also includes no dialogue, and is completely made up of songs from both well-known and obscure Kander and Ebb shows such as “Chicago,” “Cabaret,” “Woman of the Year” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” The nature of the revue allows for flexibility in setting and character portrayal, placing a focus on the stories from the music and lyrics. “And the World Goes ‘Round” director and choreographer Kenny Shepard, an AU dance professor, elaborated on his process in creating the basis for the show.
“For this show, it begins as 300 pages of music and the creative team gets to shape those pages; however, we choose to tell the stories of the songs,” he said. “I chose to place this show in a theatre, because for me, there’s no more dramatic setting than a stage, backstage and even dressing room areas. I think it serves the piece well as we match the drama and theatricality of Kander and Ebb’s gorgeous music and lyrics.”
Kander and Ebb wrote many musicals together from 1965 until Ebb’s death in 2004. The duo is most famously known for Chicago, including numbers like “All That Jazz” and “Mr. Cellophane,” both of which are included and beautifully performed in “And the World Goes ‘Round.” Shepard spoke on the brilliance of the composer-lyricist team:
“Kander and Ebb told important stories with their music and lyrics. Certainly, the stakes are high within the stories of “Cabaret” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” among others, and there’s also an entertainment factor that can’t be denied,” he said. “What permeates through their music is compassion, survival, the pursuit of joy, finding love and feeling loved.”
Along with the touching music of Kander and Ebb, the show also features breath-taking choreography. The inclusion of four dance students in the six-member cast of musical theatre students provides a unique and powerful collaboration of artists. Dancers are highlighted in numbers like “All That Jazz” and “Arthur in the Afternoon.”
Senior dancer Hannah Johnson will be performing on the Byrum stage for the first time in this show. She explained that every dancer in the show sings with the musical theatre majors and that the show “has been a great way to merge the departments of dance and musical theatre.”
Johnson also shared her favorite number of the show.
“My favorite number is ‘Sometimes a Day Goes By,’” she said. “This lyrical number is choreographed by Melissa Denney, a dear friend of mine and also one of my roommates. Getting the opportunity to perform her choreography on-stage has been amazing and tremendously rewarding.”
While this is Johnson’s first performance at Byrum, “And the World Goes ‘Round” will be senior Conner Scott’s last of many. He will be performing numbers such as “Mr. Cellophane,” “Marry Me,” “Sometimes a Day Goes By” and “Sara Lee.”
Scott was able to create and find his characters “through the story of each song and exploring a through-line that connected my motivation from each song into an overall character arc.”
“There was a lot of freedom in exploration at the beginning by personal inspiration, as opposed to discovery through research and rehearsal in a scripted show,” Scott said.
“And the World Goes ‘Round” moves seamlessly between chilling and emotional ballads and high-energy group numbers, complemented by the versatility of the performers with their portrayal of multiple characters. Each song’s intentionality is displayed through the performers’ tight vocal harmonies and precise choreography. The show produces a wide range of deep feelings and emotions through the powerful connection between the actors, audience and music. “And the World Goes ‘Round” is enthralling, leaving audiences with the realization that no matter what, life presses on and the world keeps turning.
“And the World Goes ‘Round” runs Thursday, Nov. 21 through Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m., with 2:30 p.m. shows on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 24. To reserve tickets, call the Byrum box office at (765)-641-4140. Performances are held at Byrum Hall.