Sitting down with the master

Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill

by Kurt Weill and various lyricist
directed by Hal Simons
musical direction by Jason Wynn
Theater 1010, 1010 Park Avenue 212-288-3246, ext. 3 Equity Showcase closes May 27, 2000

Review by Julie Halpern

Berlin to Broadway, a musical review, begins with Kurt Weill's early masterpieces, conceived in his native Germany in the 1920s, and culminates in his operatic Broadway musicals of the late 1940s. Born in Dessau, Germany, in 1900, the young Weill was classically trained, and by age 19 was already conducting operas. The son of a cantor, he was steeped in the dark, minor keys of Jewish liturgical music. The combination of these two traditions resulted in a unique sound.
Although Weill's music has been recorded by such diverse artists as Bing Crosby, Bobby Darrin, and The Doors, much of his music is unfamiliar except to musical-theatre aficionados. But far from being inaccessible to audiences, their major problem is that of finding performers equal to the vocal and acting challenges Weill's music presents. Happily, this was not a problem for Theater 1010, who have assembled a cast of four exceptional singing actors with the intelligence required to bring the sophisticated lyrics of such luminaries as Bertolt Brecht, Maxwell Anderson, Ogden Nash, and Alan Jay Lerner to life.
Weill composed The Threepenny Opera while still in his 20s. His wife Lotte Lenya immortalized many songs from this work. "The Barbara Song" and "Pirate Jenny" were sung magnificently by mezzo Lorinda Lisitza and Judith Jarosz, respectively. Happy End, Weill's next work, was a sort of German expressionist take on Guys and Dolls, including down-and-out drifters, and a Sarah Brown-style missionary. Judith Jarosz's lovely soprano soared effortlessly through Weill's fiendish tessitura in "March Ahead to the Fight" and "Childhood's Bright Endeavor." "The Bilbao Song" and "Mandalay" were compellingly vocalized by tenor Michael Winther and baritone Bjorn Olsson, who expressed the seedy core of their characters without slipping into stereotype. The four singers blended seamlessly in "Heavenly Salvation," from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

In 1933, Weill and Lenya fled Germany to Paris, and by 1935 they had settled in New York. Weill's first Broadway show, Johnny Johnson, a musical about the impending war, was not a commercial success, but its innovative style influenced musicals for many years to come. "Johnny's Song" was powerfully sung by Winther. Knickerbocker Holiday contains the popular "September Song" and "It Never Was You." Sung here as a duet with Olsson and Lisitza, it was the highlight of the evening. Lady In the Dark, a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence about a sophisticated woman's psychiatric analysis, contains a number of well-known favorites. The honors were shared by Lisitza, singing "The Ballad of Jenny," and Jarosz, singing "My Ship." In 1947, Weill collaborated with Langston Hughes to produce his greatest triumph, Street Scene - melding Broadway and operatic traditions, with complex harmonies and lengthy arias. Winther's bright, rangy tenor was ideally suited for the mournful "Lonely House."
Musical director Jason Wynn's piano resounded through the hall like a symphony orchestra. Stage director Hal Simons's economic choreography was extremely effective, utilizing the platforms of Kari Martin's metallic set - evocatively lit by Martin. Gail Baldoni's attractive costumes looked great on everyone.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern