Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill

Reviewed By Eric Grode

Presented by Laura Heller, Carol Ostrow and Edwin W. Schloss at the Triad Theatre, 158 W. 72nd St. Opened Aug. 19 for an open-ended run.

"Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill" may be a bit top-heavy, but patient viewers will ultimately get a tuneful reminder of the German émigré's abundant gifts.

The musical, not seen here since 1972, devotes its first act almost entirely to Weill's three major collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, and the jazz-influenced sounds of their wrathful cabaret are instantly recognizable. The four versatile performers—Lorinda Lisitza, Veronica Mittenzwei, Michael Winther, and Björn Olsson—all do a capable job with this material, and Mittenzwei delivers a stirring "Pirate Jenny." (A highlight of the show is her exquisite rendition of "I Wait for a Ship" from the 1934 French musical "Marie Galante.") Still, it's hard to shake the idea that director/choreographer Hal Simons views this period as more edifying than entertaining.

But in Act Two, when Weill arrives on Broadway, the shift has an incredibly liberating effect on the performers. Each singer seems three inches taller when singing the sparkling words of Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash, Langston Hughes, Alan Jay Lerner, and the like—and having similarly sprightly Weill melodies to work with.

This disparity stems from the show's chief flaw, its half-and-half structure, which demands that the three Weill-Brecht shows get exactly as much attention as his seven main Broadway scores. As exciting as "The Threepenny Opera" is, does it really deserve triple the stage time of the criminally underrated "Street Scene"?

All four performers come off stronger in Act Two. Winther's dependable musical theatre credentials come in handy for the uptempo numbers, and his plaintive tenor is particularly well suited for the "Johnny Johnson" songs. Lisitza's booming belt voice and deft comic timing mark her as a natural cabaret performer; Olsson's Swedish accent occasionally makes for garbled lyrics, but he has a commanding presence to match his baritone voice. The always-welcome musical director Eric Stern provides the onstage piano accompaniment.