Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

world cast

 Ben Munday (left rear), Chris Gilbey-Smith, Martha Allen-Smith, (front left) Kim Arnold and Val Whitlock, Making the world go round. Pictures: Richard Smith

The World Goes ‘Round

Loft Theatre Company, Leamington


I’ve praised The Loft to the skies before, so who should be surprised if I have the same kind of reaction this time round?

But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them tackle a full-length Musical before. “Per ardua ad astra” the Romans used to say, quoting their arch-poet, Virgil.: “Through adversity to the stars”: no surprise that it’s the motto of the Royal Air Force.

Yet with the Loft’s production of The World Goes Round you’d think there had been no ardua. Only that, professional as ever, the Loft has made it to the stars, dazzling in a fabulous staging by Director James Suckling and Choreographer Hannah Hampson. What skill. What finesse. What absolute perfection.

Of course there are ardua (Latin: marked difficulties) : especially the time and effort and commitment required to pull off not just a stage play, but a massive sequence of songs, a glorious concoction, all pieced together from the Musicals of Kander & Ebb - Americans John Kander (who is still with us, aged 96) and Fred Ebb, both from a Jewish family, whose successful partnership lasted for three decades - from 1965 to 1997. In fact the Musical – its concept, execution and development – was inextricably linked to the work of immensely gifted Jewish directors, screenwriters, producers, composers and actors.

A different ‘new’ Musical (Music: Kander, Lyrics: Ebb) was even staged in 2010, six years after Ebb’s death, aged 76. That one, A Chorus Line, enjoyed record popularity – such a phenomenal hit that it ran for more than 6,000 performances, was revived on its 30th birthday and then wowed London’s West End and will be revived at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in July and August 2024, followed by a UK Tour.

It was a huge hit – one of their best and longest-running when originally staged on Broadway. Indeed the New York Times opined “it may be its authors' long overdue smash”.

A much later film (2002) picked up the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Amazing, given it’s an (approved) concoction, technically a ‘Revue, i.e. not a full-scale Musically. “An unexpected delight: A handsome, tasteful, snazzily staged outpouring of song and dance that celebrates all the virtues of the Kander-Ebb catalogue”, again purred the New York Times.

The original production winning three Drama Desk Awards. The revue takes its title from a tune the song-writing team wrote for Liza Minnelli to sing in the film New York, New York.

Of course (prior to my time) the Loft has scored. I’m sure sensationally, drawing on Musicals and achieving huge praise. Seven Stephen Sondheims, including A Little Night Music, Into the Woods, and Sweeney Todd (twice), or Bertholt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. The World Goes ‘Round is a brilliantly constructed, song-filled revue celebrating the pair’s multi-Tony award-winning collaboration.


Martha Allen-Smith

And what a performance this was, a feast laid on copiously by the Loft. Music Director Liam Walker’s role must have been considerable, not just doing justice to the wonderful Kander & Ebb astonishing output - ‘I don’t remember you’, ‘The Happy Time’, ‘Sometimes a day goes by’, ‘Ring Them Bells’, A Quiet Thing’, ‘We can make it’, but in presumably arranging some of it for his marvellous seven-man band: himself on keyboards (of course), a glorious percussion (sometimes, perhaps often, controlled by Simon Belcher so as never to drown the singers and deployment of brass (no strings) and a synthesize (Gareth Wynne) which added intriguing effects to the markedly well-judged score.

Particularly prominent, neatly framed under a kind of rearstage mock proscenium (post-scenium?) arch was his deployment (on Mike Read’s just ?two saxophones) of a flood of different supporting saxophone sounds, sometimes like a clarinet, or a modern oriental shawm; often in all its tenor range glory. Read, a fabulously articulate instrumentalist, supporting and always well balanced within the vocal lines, as was the whole band.

Indeed an enormous help was the fact that, although the Loft’s hugely capable, perfectly-tuned five singers (as in the 1991-2 original, occasionally rising to a full quintet), always cleverly, watchably and enjoyably staged by Suckling - sometimes (the groupings and certain five-member blocks) rivalling the American premiere:, which then toured the U.S., were each miked (beige microphones visibly, perhaps inevitably, attached to necks). They didn’t need therm. They were not only word perfect.

They were like professional singers straight off the London stage (which these days is choc-a-block with Musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber, the fantastic long-running Billy Elliot adaptation (stunning music by Elton John), Mrs.Doubtfire (ex- the tragically missed Robin Williams); Pretty Woman The Musical, The Lion King; even a new Guys and Dolls. Provincial theatres are much the same: Sheffield Crucible, Nottingham Playhouse, Colchester’s Mercury Theatre, Canterbury’s Marlowe, et al. Musicals bring in the crowds: and that at least – hurrah! yields them the money for serious theatre.

Here the Loft’s young Sound Designer and Operator Mike Harrison, excellent in every way, acutely sensitive to the idiom, refused to play the songs unbearably loud. Quite the opposite: he kept any potentially intrusive volume low, so most of the sound came from the singers themselves, not the loudspeakers. They didn’t need any. Hurrah! Too often in staged, touring Musicals I’ve seen recently, the opposite is true: a blasting. Ridiculous. Infuriating. No voices heard directly from the stage, as they should be.

Thus songs like the delicious ‘Marry Me’ or ‘Pain’ weren’t spoiled, but with the Loft’s singer-actors of this first-rate, hard-worked brigade positively shone.

“Filled with humour, romance, drama and non-stop melody, this is a thrilling celebration of life and the fighting spirit that keeps us all going” observed Musical Theatre International, adding “like a non-stop hit-parade that features countless unforgettable gems.”

And that what the Loft gave us. Many one of us will have come out afterwards chanting one or more of those magical, masterfully-crafted Kander & Ebb songs. And a lot was due to the almost sensational singing of the five frontmen and women (the Loft calls them ‘Company’, but they’re rather all ‘Leads’ in America’s amateur (?’non-professional’): surely more accurate.

Set in the Off-Broadway production deliberately kept simple, and so here (Richard Moore, who has done so many superbly intelligent and appropriate backgrounds and foregrounds to lift countless Loft stagings: the odd table, a pair of scarcely used stools, maybe a desk; and most saliently, two New York (or any post-Gettysburg US State) - style stars and stripes stretched across the back; occasional props.


Val Whitlock

The overall emptyish look (again that was the design of the Off-Broadway original) was more than adequate, with the band hoist up behind and attractively visible to us all. Costumes varied, scarlet, two shades of blue, bottle green, quite jazzy at times, even Chris Gilbey-Smith’s changing beige-greens. He will direct Frank Wedekind’s unbelievably daring 1899 play about adolescence ’Spring Awakening (Frühlings Erwachen) – aptly – next spring.

How super if the Loft could lure back the unmatchable Peter Borsada – the stupendous, shy yet vocal and mimicking Jewish, gay young Posner, in Steve Smith’s (now Artistic Director of the Talisman, Kenilworth, the Loft’s Doppelgäanger), likewise exploring, penetrating (and deeply understanding German or anywhere teenage Angsts). Smith staged an unforgettably brilliant The History Boys (rivalling London’s sensational NT staging, with the late Richard Griffiths, for the Loft back in 2012.

And perhaps lure across and recruit his brilliant chum (from Warwick’s Waiting for Godot), the terrifically talented Max Woodyatt (son of a famous father, lives locally). Both about teenagers. and Wedekind’s 1890s play disturbingly ahead of its time.

Three girls, two boys. The girls’ threesome, Martha Allen-Smith, Kim Arnold and Val Whitlock, were nicely attired as well, Arnold’s digging successfully into her variable, betimes a little frowsty, character, with two stupendous solos directed boldly direct to the audience; Whitlock in that magnificent eye-catching scarlet attire, the older and perhaps sanest of the gang; Allen-Smiths’ royal blue somehow both beautiful and apt, as she hurtles through doubts and assertions, occasional explosions, sometimes unexpectedly subdued and demure.

The girls have at least one vocal trio (all three together), perhaps more, certainly within the fivesome ‘tracks’– they were so good (this really was ‘ensemble’), often moving as well, we’d have loved to have been given more (although the original, and likewise here, was designed to last two and a quarter hours, including Interval).

True, as I assume it’s not always easy, and perhaps likewise in that first US tour, without copious notes and a Synopsis, to follow in detail the quasi-plot, and work out what’s actually supposed to be happening, it’s the words of the songs (Book: not Ebb, but a celebrated and much younger writer, David Thompson, who put his scripting skills to work alongside Ebb on, for example, the Kander-Ebb Musicals Chicago, The Scottsboro Boys, Prince of Broadway, and New York, New York.

Again, reviews give a clue, or helpfully steer us the right way, dubbing this show it : “A brilliantly constructive collaboration”, “A thrilling celebration of life, and the fighting spirit that keeps us all going. Five individuals are careening through the world of love, babies and coffee”. Well we glimpsed the the ‘babies’ (luckily they didn’t squawk when pressed), we saw a lot of brandished coffee, and - well, if we didn’t learn a lot about Life, we certainly learned about Fun.

And penetrating the finer detail didn’t matter much, such charm there was in the acting and, above all, the incredibly versatile five performers chanting, intoning, the fabulous, expressive songs, “seamlessly interwoven into a passionate, harmonious, up-tempo evening”. Up-tempo? I guess that means (as mentioned above) the sheer whizz and elation, enthusiasm and articulacy, and sheer unceasing precision of Liam Walker’s varied and, whatever the prescribed (or here, finely generated) dynamics, on-target, full-orchestra-quality players.


Goodbye to Berlin . . . Kim Arnold

Possibly most valuable, his attaccas (quick joining of song to the next song, or section to section) were colossally intelligent, and as a matter of judgement (and style) refined, too. Shades of Sweeney Todd, in the switches of key, to which the five cast members could not have responded more adroitly and swiftly.

Oh goodness, how should one praise – laud, extol, honour - the whole of this enterprising Loft extravaganza adequately? Does it deserve this whole eulogy?

Yes it did, in every way possible. One wants to add yummy, scrumptious, overwhelming, hilarious, tempting, masterly: in short, edge-of-seat stuff packed with unforgettable material. These performers could not only act and remember every one of Hannah Hampson’s dancing moves – but were beautifully abreast of Kander’s alluring, in fact always brilliant, music (far outshining at least some Lloyd Webber). They sang their hearts out; and we did, too.

The chaps, offsetting the very skilled and artful active girls, contributed hugely to the fun – the joie-de-vivre of this exceptional evening.

Even when Suckling elects to keep individuals, or a group, static, he always pays homage to the gist of the song in question. His grouping - blocks, or blockings - were so often, perhaps not quite every time but nearly always, deeply thought through, relevant, inspired.

Chris Gilbey-Smith, referred to approvingly above, has a glorious, naughty, mischievous – one might almost say unique – sense of humour, blown up like a balloon here whenever he hit the stage. Hyperactive to be sure - except isn’t that exactly what American musicals, like Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) demand? Consider those knife-wielding, Romeo versus Tybalt, immature street-fighting Sharks and Jets. Explosive, animated, brutal, pathetic antipathies, utterly stupid. Indeed you could go back to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The jolly, sometimes sentimental genre of the American Musical (the Germans evolved their own version around the same time (Brecht, Marlene Dietrich, and many more) was well established by the thirties (Irving Berlin, ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’, Cole Porter ‘Night and Day’, Jerome Kern’s Oscar-winning ‘The Way You Look Tonight’).

Ben Munday, by contrast, seemed at times to be the voice of sanity. Using his own handsome height to explore control, restraining and curbing of others, yet sometimes emerging as the comic touch in a particular sequence, he revealed himself, if gradually, as an actor of some considerable ability. And singer – his late Act 2 solo was as alluring as I’ve argued already that the Loft is right up there with professional theatres and casts. Well, in this case – as doubtless in so many of their hundred-years-old stagings – no one fell short.

Only one single scene do I recall as feeling a trifle dull; maybe just less inventive, amid so phenomenal (and exhausting) devising a stage show with invented plot (based on the original, and possibly following it loyally) featuring so many numbers (13 in each of the two Acts, a total of 26 John Kander songs, musical masterpieces all, assuming all 26 were retained, despite not surprisingly including a couple of reprises).

In fact what a brilliant, inspired decision the Loft committee made when it chose to stage this rip-roaring, stuck-together effort which unleased such a welter of largely well-known American hits. Can this electrifying theatre company attempt, and pull off, Musicals? You bet they can.

And those hits? Gilbey Smith’s “There's a lady living somewhere. Where it is, I do not know. But I long to write and tell her. That I love her so.” Corny of course, but add the music – he can do high as well as low tenor - yet it somehow becomes magical. His unstoppable, outrageous dancing –dancing as the Americans say - was delicious. Regarding accents, yes, there was some modern American lingo spread across the cast, but certainly it was kept restrained, and never grated. ‘All that jazz’ is a song from Chicago, and what a treat it was here. Near the start Allen-Smith – later moody and bereft - in shifting shades of blue made ‘Yes’ (“Yes I will…”) shine brightly.

In short, this was a joyous cast: a delight to the nine-day audiences. The ‘Book’ (i.e. libretto, or spoken parts) hit home, too, often enough wistful, longing and yearning (the story being about falling in love or out of it, full of hope - or jilted) . “Not every son of a bitch is a snake in the grass”; an optimistic “it’s going to happen”; a lot of rhyme; “The diamond in the store I could pay monthly for”.

And so, finally and a happy ending, to Cabaret, Sally Bowles and Liza Minelli. I was sad those splendid New York librettists/lyricists didn’t choose to include Joel Grey’s wonderful opening, “Wilkommen, bien venue, welcome”: it would have suited looming Ben Munday (perhaps especially, he has a good, mature voice, Gilbey-Smith has a magnificent, more cheeky Maybe This Time – Cabaret

Isn't This Better? – Funny Lady

The Money Song – Cabaret

Cabaret – Cabaret

Theme from New York, New York – though equally wide-ranging one). But what treats were in store: the heartbreaking“Maybe this time [he’ll stay]”; the zooming quickstep ‘Money Song’ (money money money, too fast to put in the commas; and to round off , the title’s ‘Cabaret Song’: “Come hear the music play. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, Life is a Cabaret…”.

Phew! Steve Smith once said (re my report on The History Boys at the Loft), this was the only time he could remember when “the review was longer than the play”. Well not quite that here; but I’ve tried to give a feel of yet another Loft triumph. Their The World Goes ‘Round was pure magic from beginning to end. A joy to be at. Now wait for my outrageously belated review of their fantastic Macbeth. It’s even longer. Thanks for reading, this one, especially if you’ve survived to the end. I’ve tried to give an idea (in this five star review) of their The World’s excellence: a quality one is never surprised at this great Leamington venue from a truly great and uplifting company.

Roderic Dunnett


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