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Marriott's 'The World Goes 'Round' gets deftly re-imagined for the post-pandemic era

If all Marriott Theatre had to recommend "The World Goes 'Round: The Songs of Kander & Ebb" was the celebrated duo's colorful, character-driven tunes and the golden-voiced quintet and instrumentalists who perform them, it would be enough. But Marriott has another, not-so-secret advantage in director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who does for the Lincolnshire production what she did so brilliantly five years ago for Drury Lane Theatre's revival of "Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller."

Dodge re-imagines the tuner showcasing John Kander and Fred Ebb's hits (plus some lesser-known gems) by imposing a loose, albeit timely, narrative that is not only entertaining but also emotionally satisfying in a way many jukebox revues are not.

Taking her cue from the COVID-19 pandemic, which suspended in-person performances for nearly 18 months, Dodge sets the revue in a hastily vacated theater (fallen into disrepair judging from the overturned chairs, neglected props and tatty curtains) where five singer/actors reunite to perform after nearly two years away from the stage.

"We are back," one of them exclaims.

In the 90 minutes that follow, the accomplished cast of Allison E. Blackwell, Joseph Anthony Byrd, Kevin Earley, Meghan Murphy and Amanda Rose show off not only estimable voices but also sharp comedic chops.

The show starts on a high note with the caffeinated "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" (from "70, Girls, 70") notable for its clever stage business, which Dodge, a Tony Award nominee for 2009's "Ragtime," also applies to fine effect in the zippy "Ring Them Bells."

In the deliciously droll "The Grass in Always Greener" from "Woman of the Year," socialite Blackwell and housewife Murphy compare lifestyles. Speaking of delicious, Byrd waxes rhapsodic on bakery goods in "Sara Lee" in which female cast members sport strawberry shortcake chapeaus. Then there's Rose's extramaritally occupied housewife awaiting her tryst with "Arthur in the Afternoon" from "The Act."

But "The World Goes 'Round" is not all guffaws and winks. Byrd and Rose play a couple on the brink of commitment in a charming trio of songs that concludes with a jaunty soft shoe number. Late in the show, Early, Blackwell and Murphy ruminate on romance, its possibility of success and the benefits of comfort over passion in a poignant section that looks at love from a decidedly mature perspective. To that end, I sensed an ambivalence in certain numbers that I found intriguing, as if the performers were aching to convince themselves of the lyrics' truth as much as they attempted to convince the audience.

The show concludes (of course) with the crowd-favorite "New York, New York." But the better number is the penultimate one, a jazzy, sexy Manhattan Transfer-style version of "Cabaret" that showcased the cast's considerable skills.

Lastly, in a revival that wears its inspiration on its sleeve, Dodge tips her hat to Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," Bob Fosse's choreography, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.'s extravaganzas and the late director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell (a Chicago-area favorite). But at the same time she acknowledges the history of the jukebox tuner, Dodge masterfully charts its future. I can't wait to see what she does next.