Between Fire & Ice: A Diabolical Weimer Berlin Kabaret
By: Paulanne Simmons
September 27, 2021: The year may be 2021. And The Triad Theater may be located at 158 West 72 Street in New York City. But on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 25, Adrienne Haan transported the audience at the Triad to Weimar Germany. Despite Germany’s “sad attempt at democracy,” this was a time when populism, militarism, racism and anti-Semitism were all on the rise. But, said Haan, it was also “the creative time of the great cabaret artists.”
Dressed in a short, befringed and beaded lavender dress (the audience was asked to guess the color and informed that lavender was the symbolic color of gay people and the gay resistance in Weimar Germany), Haan, strutted, shimmied and swaggered across the stage, belting and crooning some of the great songs of the era. Occasionally she donned a top hat and sported a cane. The show is called “Between Fire & Ice: A Diabolical Weimer Berlin Kabaret Celebrating 1700 Years of Jewish life in German-Speaking Lands (321-2021). Musical director Richard Danley, at the piano, provided superb accompaniment.
Of course, the giants of the era, with their international hits, played a big role in her repertoire: Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Mack the Knife” and “Pirate Jenny” from The Threepenny Opera; Friedrich Hollaender’s “Falling in Love Again,” originally performed by Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel; and “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” composed by Fabian Andre, with lyrics by Wilbur Schwandt and Lee Rothman (performed by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Doris Day, and, in the 60s, made into a hit by The Mamas & the Papas).
But there were also lesser-known gems. Haan turned Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht’s “Abortion Is Illegal,” into an anthem we need very much today, and she had great fun with that hilarious spoof on gender roles, “Masculine-Feminine.”
Whatever she sings, Haan has a broad vocal range, a great set of pipes and a delivery that is expressive in both German and English.
After the devastation of World War I, it’s not hard to see why Germans looked on their world with a mixture of cynicism, despair and a devil-may-car fatalism. But the burst of creativity that attitude generated is an inexplicable serendipity. Tragically, Haan related, the Weimar Republic fell with the rise of Hitler. The Jewish composers and lyricists fled to the United States. And those “kinky cabarets” closed.
But we still have the music. And Adrienne Haan to keep it alive.