Review: A toothless ‘Berlin to Broadway’ at Source
By Nelson Pressley,
“Oh the shark has
Pretty teeth, dear –”
Which is more than can be said for the blandly cheery revue gliding around toothlessly at Source. “Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage” gleams with sharp material such as “Mack the Knife,” “Alabama Song” and “Pirate Jenny.” The In Series cast is able-voiced, but not commanding. No blood is drawn.
That sinks the first act, which showcases songs from three musicals Weill wrote with Bertolt Brecht: “The Threepenny Opera,” “Happy End” and “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.” The tone can be ferocious (“How to Survive”), brutal (“Surabaya Johnny”) and drunken (“Bilbao Song”) in songs rich with dangerous characters and atmospheric stories. The earnestness that director Abel Lopez gets from performers wandering the small stage like minstrels doesn’t do.
Weill’s music is certainly theatrical enough, with its rat-a-tat pulses, full-throated choruses and lyrical refrains. Pianist and musical director Paul Leavitt anchors the sound, supported by Ephriam Wolfolk on upright bass and, occasionally, Paul Aebersold on accordion as this 1972 show charts Weill’s two-staged career. The first act features the European shows penned with Brecht; the second draws from the sunnier American musicals Weill wrote with Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes, Ogden Nash and more.
The performance at Source has more highs and lows in this second act. The lows include some raw over-emoting and a bit of dancing that is less than sprightly. The high is the wry “Saga of Jenny” (lyrics by Gershwin) from “Lady in the Dark,” which finds Karen Enriquez O’Connell and Alexandra Linn at their most effortlessly confident. Other notable Weill tunes — “September Song,” “Lonely House,” “Lost in the Stars” — feel like lost opportunities.
This 1972 show is a very good Weill primer, moving chronologically and delivering bits of biography via a narrating guide, played affably here by Ashley Ivey. The compilation of rogues and dreamers certainly whets the appetite: Signature Theatre just announced it will tackle “The Threepenny Opera” next year.
“Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage,” music by Kurt Weill, text and format by Gene Lerner. Directed by Abel Lopez. Lighting, Roberto Gato Echanique; costumes, Donna Breslin; set adapted by Osbel Susma-Pena from A.J. Guban’s set for “Zorro.” With Steve Lebens, Sally Martin and Jase Parker. About two hours. Through March 10 at Source, 1835 14th St. NW. Call 202-204-7763 or visit inseries.org
Nelson Pressley is a freelance writer.