Playwright: music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Bertolt Brecht et al., book by Gene Lerner. At: Light Opera Works' Second Stage at the McGaw YMCA, 1420 Maple, Evanston. Phone: 847-869-6300; $24-$39. Runs through: Nov. 11
A key factor in marketing of a musical revue is the age of its target audience. Unlike full revival productions, the brief glimpses of a chosen topic afforded by a revue are less about how the music was than they are about how we remember it being. ( For example, when some enterprising producer assembles a 'Counterculture On Broadway' cabaret act, look to hear Good Morning, Starshine, but not Black Boys/White Boys. ) Since the generation who hummed along with the songs of Kurt Weill are now approaching its eighth decade, Berlin To Broadway would seem ripe for retirement from the repertoire by, say, 2020.
This doesn't mean that an evening comprised of atonal agitprop anthems and slick Manhattan razzle-dazzle, all covering a little over 20 years of the mid-20th century, can't be entertaining in 2007, provided that the show can invoke the ambience that rendered the artistry exciting at its inception while still connecting it with contemporary zeitgeist. Berlin To Broadway premiered in 1972, at the nadir of the Vietnam War, perhaps accounting for creator Gene Lerner's showcasing of socially conscious, if lightweight, patterers drawn from Johnny Johnson, Knickerbocker Holiday and Love Life. Langston Hughes' lyrics for the 1946 adaptation of Elmer Rice's Street Scene certainly justified their inclusion, but also revealing, in retrospect, were the restrictions imposed on the bitterly misanthropic ballads of Weill's collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, representations of which skirt politics to focus on domestic-relationship themes.
The four warblers in this Light Opera Works production readily fulfill their roles' primary goal of making themselves personable, although they are understandably more comfortable with the conventional harmonies of Weill's American period than with the dissonant melodies and irregular tempos of the early Brecht-Weill collaborations. ( Paradoxically, untrained singers often prove better interpreters of Weimar Republic-era compositions than vocalists rigidly schooled in techniques—regardless of genre—that they must then abandon in the name of stylistic accuracy. )
The ensemble's valiant efforts are further impaired by the uneven acoustics in Light Opera Works' community-center quarters and a running time that rushes the agenda. Abundant compensation for these flaws, however, is provided by an orchestra composed of music director Jon Steinhagan and his five cohorts, who generate vo-dee-oh-do to soothe us even as we contemplate its pretext's imminent extinction.Read more story below....