theatre review

Berlin to Broadway
with Kurt Weill
Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island
June 24 - July 3

I’ve always had trouble with musical revues. To turn a string of songs into a piece of theatre means providing a narrative line or inventing a (usually lame) story or structure, creating a set and moving the actor/singers around the stage in some kind of dramatic or choreographic relation to one another. Almost inevitably these theatrical elements prove superfluous and the success or failure of the show comes down to the quality of the music and the talent of the performers.

This Equity Co-op production of Kurt Weill’s music boasts a first-rate cast, a terrific band, and the great German composer who collaborated with Bertolt Brecht on Threepenny Opera and other plays before fleeing the Nazis for New York where he worked with Ira Gershwin, Alan Jay Lerner and Maxwell Anderson among others. Yet the show only half-succeeds.

Weill’s brilliant music, part cabaret and part operetta, is rarely melodious, sometimes dissonant, and not easy to sing. Katey Wright has a lovely voice and full control of the style, and utterly shines with “Surabaya Johnny,” “Pirate Jenny” and “That’s Him.” But Don Noble loses his way on some of Weill’s best numbers like “Mack the Knife” and “September Song.” Rebecca Codling and Shawn Macdonald show some nice dance moves and both have sweet voices, though at times hers is too small to be heard over the band. Denis Simpson never seems fully comfortable as the narrator who leads us chronologically through Weill’s life, but lights up when he sings and dances.

Director Johnna Wright keeps the actors busy, sometimes sacrificing Weill‘s dark irony for corny laughs on the large wooden spools of Adam Parboosingh’s set which has no particular Weillian resonance. But the music is always glorious (Alison Jenkins on accordion, clarinet and trumpet, Kerry O’Donovan piano, Lyndon Surjik bass, Jonathan Teague percussion), the dramatic intelligence of ensemble pieces like “Alabama Song” wonderful, and some songs like “Lost in the Stars” simply exquisite.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:08 PM
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