Taking its title from a tune the songwriting team wrote for Liza Minnelli to sing in the Martin Scorsese film New York, New York, the eclectic collection of love songs, torch songs, and acerbicly witty comic numbers was conceived by director Scott Ellis, choreographer Susan Stroman, and librettist David Thompson, who collaborated on such Kander and Ebb shows as Steel Pier and the 1996 revival of Chicago.
It opened on March 18, 1991 at Manhattan's off-Broadway Westside Theatre, where it ran for 408 performances. The original cast consisted of Karen Ziemba, Robert Cuccioli, Karen Mason, Brenda Pressley, and Jim Walton. Joel Blum and Marin Mazzie were replacements later in the run. Frank Rich, in his New York Times review, wrote: "The evening is an unexpected delight: a handsome, tasteful, snazzily staged outpouring of song and dance that celebrates all the virtues of the Kander-Ebb catalogue while scrupulously avoiding most of the cloying cliches of and-then-I-wrote anthologies.
It won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical, and Cuccioli received the Outer Critics Circle Award for his performance. Additional honors included Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical Revue, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Ziemba), and Outstanding Director of a Musical.
The following year, Ziemba, Blum, and Mazzie were joined by John Ruess and Shelley Dickinson for a 10-month national tour. With scenic and technical embellishments added and the title simplified to The World Goes 'Round, the revised edition included mostly upbeat, unfamiliar songs from the team's lesser musicals: The Happy Time, The Rink, The Act, Flora the Red Menace, and what was then a work-in-progress, Kiss of the Spider Woman.