Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill
Rather than a traditional musical or opera with characters and plot, this piece is a compilation of songs by German-American composer Kurt Weill. I have only recently become familiar with Weill, first at last year's Patti LuPone concert in which she sang several of his songs, and then just this spring, when I saw not one but two productions of Weill's most well-known work, The Threepenny Opera. What I liked best about Threepenny was the music, and the more I hear it the more I like it. Berlin to Broadway is a beautiful showcase of the work of this great composer and his complex, interesting, and gorgeous melodies. It's the kind of music that the more time you spend with it, the more you appreciate it.
Four singer/actors and a six-piece band, under the direction of Sonja Thompson, lead us through the life of Kurt Weill, from the beginning of his career in Berlin, to his exile in the Nazi era to Paris and eventually America, to his growing success in his new homeland. The songs are structured chronologically, with one or another of the actors giving a short explanation to establish place and time. Several songs from each piece are presented together, giving us a taste of what the show is like. Wendy Knox, who also directed Frank Theatre's recent production of Threepenny, directs the piece and has truly created a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. Songs and shows flow from one to the next, with visual interest created by slight costume changes and movement around the stage. It's almost like seeing several little shows in one great show.
|Christina Baldwin and Bradley Greenwald|
(photo by John Engstrom)
In short, Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill a wonderful exploration of the life of an important musical composer, one I didn't previously know much about, with gorgeous music sung by four impeccable voices.
Leonard Bernstein is another great American composer, and this 1956 operetta is one of his most celebrated works. Unfortunately it was bogged down by a troublesome book that went through several rewrites over the years. Skylark is presenting a combination of two more recent and more successful revisions. Based on the 18th Century novella by Voltaire, Candide is a satire that skewers the establishment of both 18th Century France and 1950s America. In the broadly comical plot, the bastard Candide is thrown out of his uncle's castle after falling in love with his cousin, the lovely Cunegonde. War breaks out, the castle is destroyed, everyone thinks everyone else is dead, the lovers reunite and travel the world looking for a place to be happy. Lots of other crazy things happen, which eventually disavow the optimist teachings of Dr. Pangloss, that we live in "The Best of All Possible Worlds" and everything that happens is perfect and wonderful. It's a wild romp accompanied by beautiful music.
|Jennifer Baldwin Peden, Gary Briggle, and Peter Middlecamp|
(photo by John Engstrom)
The two productions share much of the same creative team, including set designer Ann Gumpper, with the moving staircase set pieces being used for both shows. Costume Designer Lynn Farrington has put the Berlin to Broadway cast in classy period clothing, with a few accessories for some of the roles being played. The wardrobe for the Candide cast is more colorful and cartoonish, with the ensemble wearing Converse tennis shoes.
If you're an opera lover, then Skylark Opera's Summer Festival should be on your must-see list. If, like me, you're a bit of a novice when it comes to opera, don't be intimidated. Skylark makes opera fun and accessible, and has chosen two important 20th Century American composers in Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein, brought to life by not one but two groups of talented singer/actor/musicians. Both shows have just a few more performances this weekend, pick one or both and go see some opera on a summer evening.
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.