Theatre Review: ‘First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb’ at Kennedy Center

Matthew Scott, Alan H. Green, Heidi Blickenstaff, James Clow, Patina Miller and Leslie Kritzer in the Kennedy Center production of ‘First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

First You Dream: The Music of Kander and Ebb is the second musical review to feature the songs of one of the most important songwriting teams of musical theatre. The first show entitled And the World Goes Round premiered back in 1991. That production featured most of Kander and Ebb’s biggest hits like the songs “Cabaret” and “All That Jazz” as well as introducing the title song from their upcoming musical at the time, Kiss of the Spider Woman.

First You Dream consists of more songs from the team’s early days while picking up where the last revue left off by highlighting some of their later musicals, such as Steel Pier, Curtains, and The Scottsboro Boys. For musical theatre geeks like myself, it is good to hear some of the lesser known work sung outside of the shows for which they were written.

(front to back) Alan H. Green, Heidi Blickenstaff, Matthew Scott in the Kennedy Center production of ‘First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Under the direction of Signature Theatre’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and Karma Camp’s marvelous musical staging we are taken on a journey through the range of material that Kander and Ebb have graced us with.

This show is wall to wall music and to talk about every song would have us here for two weeks. To spare you all of that, here are some of my favorites from the evening.

Let’s start with a song that won Liza Minnelli her first Tony Award. “Sing Happy” from Flora the Red Menace is performed in grand style by Heidi Blickenstaff. She possesses a big voice and delivers the number with grand vibrato. Matthew Scott delivers a haunting rendition of “Cabaret” which is performed here as more of a torch song. He then goes into the beautiful “I Miss the Music” from Curtains. I sometimes think Kander wrote the lyrics to that song as a tribute to Fred Ebb who never lived to see Curtains on Broadway. I don’t know for sure if it’s true, but listen to the lyrics and judge it for yourself. James Clow performs a song written for The Act called “My Own Space.” Mr. Clow delivers this song with his great baritone sound and proves that Kander and Ebb’s song are not gender specific. “My Own Space” was written for Liza Minnelli to perform originally, but James Clow’s interpretation is equally as stellar.

‘First You Dream: The Music of Kander and Ebb’ has something for everyone. For us musical theatre officanados it offers some lesser performed songs. For the masses it has great choreography, six very talented cast members and a 23 piece LIVE orchestra.

Alan H. Green’s performances of “Go Back Home” from The Scottsboro Boys and “Life Is” from Zorba are sung with great emotion while Patina Miller’s “City Lights” from The Act is performed with great energy as is Kander and Ebb’s anthem to the big apple “New York, New York.”

Last and definitely not least we have the oh, so talented (some Broadway producer needs to give her the lead in a show) dynamo Leslie Kritzer.  Her incredible solo turns include “I Don’t Care Much” cut from and then restored to Cabaret and “The Money Tree” from The Act. Kritzer’s presence is one to be reckoned with.

The group numbers fare as well as the solo turns in the show. Numbers like “Ring Them Bells” which was written for Liza with a Z features Blickenstaff and company in a rousing first act closer complete with (wait for it) hand bells. Other group highlights include “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago and the show’s finale “Show People” from Curtains.

Patina Miller, Heidi Blickenstaff and Leslie Kritzer in the Kennedy Center production of ‘First You Dream: The Music of Kander & Ebb.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

All of this great music is played by a 23 (yes, you heard me) 23 piece orchestra conducted by John Kalbfleisch. With rich orchestrations by William David Brohn (Curtains) the music is played to its full potential with some of DC’s best players. Kudos goes out to co-conceiver David Loud for coming up with some very inventive vocal arrangements.

Production elements enhance this concert style show. James Kronzer’s set is a series of orchestra platforms with the playing area down front for the singers. At times the performers use the stairs of the orchestra platform and occasionally interact with pianist Paul Masse. Howell Binkley’s lighting is colorful and does a good job of setting the moods for each song.

First You Dream: The Music of Kander and Ebb has something for everyone. For us musical theatre officanados it offers some lesser performed songs. For the masses it has great choreography, six very talented cast members and a 23 piece LIVE orchestra.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission

First You Dream:The Music of Kander & Ebb plays through July 1, 2012 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call 202-467-4600 0r 800-444-1324, or purchase them online.