Natalie Belcon is beautiful, funny and equipped with a luscious, rich voice. You can hear a long way down into the sound she makes, and in Robert Garner Center Attractions' The World Goes 'Round, she makes the world go around all by herself--almost.
Belcon's not really all by herself--there are two other women (Jeanne Croft and Beth Swearingen) and two men (John MacInnis and Christopher Monteleone) in the show at the Galleria Theatre. They all sing well enough, dance well enough and generally perform well enough in that slick Broadway style so many patrons so heartily enjoy. But Belcon has something more.
She's as slick as the rest--polished and professional as she moves through the dance routines of this all-musical homage to the composing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb. Belcon opens the show with the title song "And the World Goes 'Round" from the film New York, New York. The lyrics enumerate the miseries of contemporary American life and conclude that, despite them, the world keeps spinning on its axis. Belcon manages to make this rather empty sentiment appealing and meaningful, investing her performance with a sweet sadness that perfectly complements her sumptuous tones and graceful delivery.
Since she has the best voice in the company, I would have preferred to hear more of it. But though Belcon is heads above the rest, MacInnis also proves an interesting performer. With a nice voice and stage presence, he zips through one of the funniest numbers of the evening, "Sara Lee," all about a love for frozen pastries that builds to a sensual passion. It's great fun because MacInnis, backed up by the three women, dives into it with such glee--and because director Bobby Smith generates so much visual excitement with his seamless reproduction of Susan Stroman's original choreography.
The parody of passionate love songs and of romantic love itself, evident in "Sara Lee," underscores one of the evening's themes. These songs from the pop charts and a variety of Broadway shows and Hollywood movies are all about how hard it is to love and how easily romantic love can dissolve. Kind of depressing when you think about it. In Kander and Ebb's musical world, nobody can sustain a relationship, and everybody's looking for love (in all the wrong places, presumably) or just generally feeling really bad about their lives. But still "The World Goes 'Round."
Smith's bright, glossy direction brings out the best in the comic songs like "Sara Lee," "Money, Money," "The Grass Is Always Greener," "Class" and "The Rink." But not even Smith can tickle anything like subtle nuances out of Croft's bland rendition of "Isn't This Better?" or elicit genuine fire from Swearingen's prim "All That Jazz"--in spite of Monteleone's elegant assistance.
The final number, "New York, New York," is about raw ambition and high energy. It is by far the most powerful song of the evening, but Smith allows its energy to dissipate in a cheery haze of good fellowship. It ought to send the audience out into the street high on life and music, but it doesn't. Just as Belcon opened the show, she might have been chosen to close it--leaving us with something like a whole experience instead of the frothy fragments we get in the end.