A revue can be a strange beast. Typically a small cast comes together for a night of songs wholly unrelated to each other except a common lyricist or composer. The music often has very little context surrounding it, which can be alienating if you’ve never heard the tunes, but fun if you’re familiar with the material and can enjoy the variety.
Rarely does a revue break from that framework, and First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb is no exception. A project conceived and directed by Eric Schaeffer of Signature Theatre, First You Dream contains all the cheese you would expect in a revue, with the glitz and glam of a Kennedy Center production backed up with an all-Broadway cast of James Clow, Heidi Blickenstaff, Matthew Scott, Alan H. Green, Leslie Kritzer, and Patina Miller..
If you’re not a serious theater geek, you may need a reminder of who Kander & Ebb are in the first place. Known for musical winners like Chicago and Cabaret and for the famous single “New York, New York” (yes, that one), John Kander and Fred Ebb are a composer/lyricist pair who created Broadway standards together for four decades.
And Broadway standards are what you’ll find at the Kennedy Center’s revue of their work, which actually originated at Signature Theatre in 2009. Think shiny men’s dress pants, gold cocktail dresses, loud belting numbers, and lots of dreamy looks into the distance.
Some of the musical numbers (and there are many, many musical numbers) stand out above the rest. The company’s renditions of “Boom Ditty Boom” and “The Cell Block Tango” get a lot of laughs and give the cast a chance to interact with the audience as fuller characters. Solo pieces like Miller’s “New York, New York” and Kritzer’s “The Money Tree” show off the cast’s very well-trained belting voices.
In fact, with performers comprised entirely of Broadway leads, each song feels like a showstopper. At the same time, the orchestra – placed on stage, as they are in a number of Kander & Ebb productions, deserve the spotlight too. Observing the labor a pit orchestra goes through to produce the melodies makes me wish the show included more instrumental numbers than just the Overture and Entr’acte. However, this is Kander and Ebb, so I suppose having them in an equal role on stage will have to suffice.
The cast works very hard throughout the production to look and feel natural with the material, even without its original context, but Matthew Scott particularly succeeds in the task. We breezily accept his character changes and laugh heartily at his sections of “Cell Block Tango” and “Military Man.” His solo of “Cabaret/I Miss the Music” nearly brings the house down.
If you’re in the mood for razzle dazzle, you’ll find it literally and figuratively at First You Dream, but beware: with twenty-nine musical numbers and hours of wistful stares and high notes, First You Dream is paradise for die-hard theater geeks, but probably not recommended for the Broadway beginner.
First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb runs through July 1, 2012 in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center. 2700 F St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20566. Nearest Metro: Foggy Bottom (Blue/Orange). For more information, call 202-467-4600.