The legendary showman Harold Prince has helmed the World Premiere of the new musical LoveMusik, giving the show a high concept Brechtian style that captures precisely the moody quality of the Kurt Weill songs featured in the evening. The esteemed director, who brought us memorable productions of Cabaret, Sweeny Todd, The Phantom of the Opera and Evita, has two multi talented Broadway stars Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy to play Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya in the story of their 25 year relationship. The show is daring, indeed, but considering all the talent involved ultimately disappointing and rarely moving.
Suggested by the letters of the German composer Kurt Weill and his muse Lotte Lenya, LoveMusik has a sentimental book by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) that chronicles the complex lives of the two mismatched lovers. The tale of their relationship, marred by her infidelities, takes them from obscurity in 1920 Berlin to their success with The Three Penny Opera, to Paris, and finally to Broadway where Weill will enjoy much recognition and Lenya will fade into his shadow. Weill will gain additional rewards in Hollywood as well as a married mistress. Lenya will find her own acclaim performing the music he created for her, after his untimely death at the age of 50.
The evening’s style and disconnectedness is echoed in the first musical number, when the two stars appear as only heads floating in separate spotlights while singing the haunting “Speak Low” from One Touch of Venus
The musical numbers that follow are a potpourri of obscure Weill songs mixed with some popular standards like “Mack the Knife,” that underscore the couple’s alienation with one another. The songs are alternated with tense scenes of exposition between the two leads that gives an apparent conflict of style to the evening, which mirrors their fascinating relationship, but fails as drama. The two shared a deep bond that simultaneously pulled them together and drove them apart.
Mr. Prince effectively used the same Brechtian style in 1966 with his landmark staging of Cabaret, but here the idea seems at odds with the story. The gifted leads, however, impressively juggle the off putting concept with a book that gives them only broad strokes, and the challenges of the music to create depictions that are much more than impersonations or caricatures. David Pittu playing the self centered Bertolt Brecht is a standout as well.
Weill was an intellectual of few words and music was his life followed by the inspiration he drew from his infatuation with Lenya. She was a former teenage prostitute, a brash opportunist with little education. The two struck a shared chord of need in one another that would last their entire lives.
Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy are two accomplished actors that know their way around a stage and how to deliver a song, having been nurtured by the works of Stephen Sondheim. She won a Tony award for Passion, and he was Tony nominated last season in a much acclaimed revival of Sweeny Todd. The thick German accent that they use feels imposed and takes the evening toward broad parody, but they work magic in adding shadings and color to their interpretations. What is missing, unfortunately, is chemistry or any sense that they are ever having a good time. There need to be one or two moments of shared euphoria to understand the lure of the disconnected lovers otherwise it feels cold and calculated.
The evening captures a certain mood that Kurt Weill often expressed in his music, but the arresting concept serves to distance us rather than involve us in the action. The confusing show feels more like a montage of events than an accumulation of details that help us understand the composer and his muse, which may very well be the point. The driving force behind their bond was always the music, which enabled their survival. The music is their lasting legacy, and if nothing else particularly ads up that may very well be the nature of their relationship.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of LoveMusik opened on May 3, 2007 at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 West 47th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenues. Tickets are available by calling Telecharge.com at 212-239-6200 or at the box office.