Loopin’ the Loop – A Celebration of Kander & Ebb
and the 20th Anniversary of Chicago
Metropolitan Room, NYC, November 9, 2016
Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes
Nothing heralds a quintessentially show biz evening like those infamous wah-wah trumpet notes at the beginning of the Chicago overture. Through all the razzmatazz—”Razzle Dazzle,” if you will—lies a whopper of a story, a little heart and a whole lot of laughs along the way. David Sabella’s newest offering, a celebration of his connection to the “killer musical” (playing reporter Mary Sunshine) as well as its songwriters, starts off with the same refrain and, similarly, gives us tons of dish and laughs as well.
Sabella is a slick storyteller, underscoring the patter throughout to make a seamless show. The arrangements never veered too far from the show version originals, but the construction of how the songs were used, often commenting on the action of the spoken passages, allowed the piece to transcend cabaret into more one-man show territory.
His voice has always been strong and agile, yet this time he modifies his vocal production to inhabit his character’s voice, as with two Chicago selections: “When You’re Good to Mama” approximates a blowsy character actress; “All I Care About Is Love” sounds like an Atlantic City crooner. Of course, he showed off that deft countertenor, used when he played Mary Sunshine in Chicago, in “Those Come Hither Eyes” (Jerome Kern/Schuyler Greene)—a bittersweet tribute to female impersonator trailblazer Julian Eltinge.
Sabella stumbles in his theater numbers: those that he presents straightforward out of their original theatrical context. Both “Mr. Cellophane” (Chicago) and “The Only One” (The Visit) lack that Sabella authenticity and, instead, feel like imitations of other artists’ styles. They also lack the personal backstory connection that allows the other numbers to sizzle.
“Life Is…” (Zorba) as well as “A Quiet Thing” (Flora the Red Menace), however, do have this backstory connection and sizzle indeed. Experiencing Sabella’s adoption trials and tribulations and the unabashed joy of raising children is well worth the price of ticket, particularly when it builds to the latter, which was simple, earnest and fabulously phrased.
But like Chicago, very little of Loopin’ the Loop is quiet, and allowing Sabella to revel in his experiences during and because of Broadway’s longest running American musical means pulling out all the stops. Inviting guest Jana Robbins to duet (fun) and then have her own step-out moment (tedious), particularly after the aforementioned piece from The Visit, slowed down much of the build that Sabella had constructed.
Luckily, he finished with a bang (metaphorically speaking) and a mash-up of two more Chicago songs: “Razzle Dazzle” and “Nowadays” gave the piece just enough razzmatazz to make even the most cynical New Yorker smile. You won’t be razzle-dazzled with all of this piece, but it’s certainly enough to have you humming Kander & Ebb for days.