It did not go unnoticed (by me) that the official opening of the Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of The World Goes 'Round was March 12 -- the day Liza Minnelli turned 63. The two events cannot be separated, since the revue celebrates the film and (mostly) stage music and lyrics of John Kander and Fred Ebb, the very team that created, composed and caricatured the entertainer.
Out of the show's 31 numbers, 17 are readily recognizable as tunes Minnelli has, in one way or other, indelibly stamped as her own.
Without Kander (music) and Ebb (lyrics), we might just be talking about Liza with a Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
And without Kander and Ebb, the world would be a quiet thing. (Ebb died in 2004.)
I remember being charmed by this show's original off-Broadway production (then titled But the World Goes 'Round: The Songs of Kander & Ebb), in 1991. Since then, creators Scott Ellis, Susan Stroman and David Thompson have fiddled and fussed with the show occasionally, to keep it fresh. This time 'round, the reference to President Reagan's love of jelly beans has been replaced by President Obama's budget-crunching, and gossip guru Rona Barrett has been turned into book-clubbing Oprah Winfrey.
So how lucky can you get?
What's on stage at the Public is a happy time. The show, directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, is simple, sassy and smart. There are many fine moments, performed by a quintet who knows they are treading on territory once inhabited by Broadway's best, and they are careful never to imitate or insult.
The marriage of "My Coloring Book," "I Don't Remember You" and "Sometimes a Day Goes By" brought me to tears, not just out of the sheer (and consistently underrated) universal brilliance of Ebb's words, but because one woman and two men -- Rosena M. Hill, Rob Sutton and Patrick Boyd -- understand the human experience, the love and loss, hope and humor, which K&E explore. Tari Kelly and Michele Ragusa, who round out the cast, also get it.
The show is thrown off-kilter whenever Hill gets the spotlight; her talent is massive and she arguably has the best numbers. Her take on "Maybe This Time" is a mesmerizing, fist-clenching anthem of anticipation, not the rant of despair so many before her have made it.
If life is a cabaret, ol' chum, then the Public has just the ticket.
The World Goes 'Round continues through April 5. O'Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org