Sunday, June 10, 2007

LoveMusik on Broadway

LoveMusik, the new Harold Prince show, with its lovely title and incredible talent behind it, is a great idea for a musical. However, like most great ideas that go on-stage half-baked, the show just withers away as it tries to present a serious musical biopic of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, but ends up being just a confused jukebox musical.

One can't deny the great talent that has gathered on the stage of the Biltmore Theater. Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy play the composer and his sometime-wife. Here are two Broadway veterans giving performances that end up leaving us cold and distant from the two musical giants that they portray. The book by Alfred Uhry (the Tony, Pulitzer, Oscar winner writer) fails to get inside the skins of the protagonists, or to conjure the time and locale where the action takes place. Likewise, Harold Prince, whose middle name is definitely Broadway, just can't seem to come up with the right ingredients to make the whole thing work. He did it, and he did it masterfully with the original production of Cabaret (with Lotte Lenya herself), but here he treats the pair as immortal icons, and neither Mr. Cerveris nor Ms. Murphy are able to break out of that mold.

Further, the choice of having the stars sing and act with thick German accents (to establish a locale, I suppose) is a bad decision that many times makes their lines unintelligible. On top of that, to add to the accent confusion, some of the songs are sung in the original German. At times, I was not sure exactly what I was suppose to understand. Another unfortunate directorial choice was to have the stars mimic the singing style of the real Weill and Lenya. Now, I am not sure what Weill sounded like when he sang, (if he sang at all) and it seems that neither do the creators. Therefore, they went with the old adage that composers can't sing. Mr. Cerveris is straight-jacketed into performing with a toned-down version of his usual radiant voice, and Ms. Murphy is placed at a great disadvantage trying to mimic Lotte Lenya's unforgettable voice. Neither of the two are totally successful at their attempts, and this hurts the show. The only one who manages to break through is David Pittu, whose earnest and earthy portrayal of Bertolt Brecht deserves the Tony Award.

I recommend that you skip this one, unless you want to catch Mr. Pittu's wonderful performance, or you are die-hard Cerveris or Murphy fans. But do get the Original Cast Recording when that comes out. There are rare Kurt Weill gems that have been gathered, and the orchestra (who were dressed in tuxedos and gowns) under Nicholas Archer plays tastefully, and with the right accent.

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