From the macho swagger of "Mack the Knife" and the concentrated betterness of "Pirate Jennie" to the wistful tenderness of "September Song" and "Speak Low," no writer of songs for the popular stage has combined quality and versatility more impressively than Kurt Weill. The reason is partly that he was an amphibious composer -- a student of the great Busoni who had composed excellent symphonies and concertos before turning his mind to popular song. He was also fortunate (or very choosy) in his choice of writer-collaborators -- not only Bertolt Brecht in his native Germany but such American lluminaries as Maxwell Anderson, Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash, Alan Jay Lerner and Langston Hughes after he came to this country as a refugee from Hitler's Germany.
A fascinating survey of his theatrical work, from "Threepenny Opera" and "Mahagonny" to "Street Scene" and "Lost in the Stars," is put together in the revue, "Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage," which will be playing Thursday through Sunday until June 14 at the Jewish Community Center in Rockvile. Excerpts from 11 shows are included in the program: his European work in the first half and the sharply contrasting American songs in the second. A cast of six young singers, deftly directed by Darrell Calvin, handles the assignment with a single, simple set and frequent costume changes. The voices are generally good, the dramatic interpretations somewhat variable but always at least promising and sometimes highly polished.
The toughest challenge is faced by Diane Neuthrop, who sings several of the songs Weill composed for his wife, Lotte Lenya. She does not erase memories of Lenya's interpretations -- nobody could -- but she does give a glimpse of interesting alternatives. Wendy Shermet's "Pirate Jenny" needs more work, but her collaboration with the more operatic voice of Christina Fox in the "Jealousy Duet" is very effective. The men in the cast, Ellwood Annaheim, William Lowry and Richard Tappen, have less demanding interpretive assignments and fill them well -- Lowry with particular vocal distinction.