KT Sullivan and Karen Kohler Are WUNDERBAR in Award-Winning Revue VIENNA TO WEIMAR at Stage 72
Cabaret Review by Stephen Hanks
If you couldn't get to the Ziegfeld Theatre at the end of January to attend the year-late 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray DVD Screening of the 1972 film "Cabaret," here's how you can do the next best thing. Head over to Stage 72 (formerly The Triad, on 158 W. 72nd Street) and watch veteran cabaret performers KT Sullivan (right in photo) and Karen Kohler in their 2012 BroadwayWorld.com Award-winning revue Vienna to Weimar, which will transport you into the politically infused and sexually steamy period of pre-World War II Austria and Germany, when life and art really was a cabaret. The only things missing will be a decadent MC and scantily-clad dancers.
I hadn't been able to see the show before Sullivan and Kohler copped their BwayWorld award, but now I know why they led the pack in that "Best Revue" category. From the moment Sullivan enters through the back of theater in an elegant, wine-colored gown, and loftily lifts a champaign glass while singing "Vienna, City of Dreams (Wien, Wien nur du allein)," a love song to the pre-Nazi occupied Austrian capital, you will feel as if you are in a different time and place and in a cabaret within a cabaret. But clinking glasses with the audience isn't quite enough for KT the flirtatious QT, as during "Mein Herr Marquis (The Laughing Song)," she literally "examines every kneecap" she can reach with a sensual tap, and when she reaches the highest note at the end of the song, the stage lights flash like staccato notes in an aria. Sullivan than takes her classy lasciviousness one step further on the German cougar anthem "Ich bin ein Vamp (I Am a Vamp)", draping one leg over the back of chair a la Marlene Dietrich on the second verse. "Half woman, half beast/I bite my men and suck them dry/And then I bake them in a pie/I am a vamp, I am a vamp/That's all I can do/I'm not mild-mannered like you/And oh no and oh no/My passion takes over and off I go/I should really be kept in a zoo."
Next it's Kohler's turn for a grand entrance, strolling in through the audience wearing a tuxedo and singing a classic German cabaret composition of lesbian suggestiveness (and one of the melodies that clearly influenced both Kander and Ebb's music for "Cabaret" and Mel Brooks for "Young Frankenstein"), "Wenn die beste Freundin (When the Special Girlfriend)." It soon morphs into a duet with KT as the lovely femme to Karen's sexy but standoffish dyke, before Kohler mounts a chair in a masculine power, spread-leg position during Sullivan's comedic, yet restrained turn on Friedrich Hollaender's "Chuck All the Men." On both numbers the women flawlessly alternate between the German lyrics and Jeremy Lawrence's English translations, as they do again on the classic Weimar ballad "I Don't Know to Whom I Belong." Here they command opposite ends of the stage and trade English and German versions, with Kohler looking androgynously luminous, a curvier and more feminine Annie Lennox.
At this point the show was only a third through the set and it could already be stamped a tour-de-force performance. But KT ups the ante providing her beautiful light opera sound to Franz Lehar's haunting "Vilia" from The Merry Widow (featuring some enchanting piano trilling by Jed Distler, who was a stellar one-man orchestra throughout the show). Kohler, who was born in Germany, lives part-time in Berlin, and has immersed herself in this music for two decades, returns with some political commentary: "German Cabaret was a furnace for change," she says, before passionately singing her own English translation of "Das Lila Lied (Purple Song)," written in 1920 by Arno Billing and Kurt Schwabach, an ahead-of-its-time anthem for gay tolerance and homosexual rights. The perfect segue is the gender ambiguousness of "Maskulinum-Femininum," with Karen beginning as the M and KT as the F and culminating in them having a hermaphrodite child.
KT is then deliciously deadpan on the double-entendres-laden "Attila the Hun," who "When life gets too vanilla . . . that's the man I fantasize, the man I idealize. A cute little brute, who knows how to shoot." Of course, Kohler offers what could be construed as the lesbian-perspective line: "I've looked high and low through each part of Germany. But no cock ever crowed enough for me." For their mini-tribute to Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht, Kohler shows off her lush alto to mezzo on "Song von Mandelay," which contrasts with Sullivan's soaring soprano on the ultimately powerful "Pirate Jenny." The ladies then returned to Frederick Hollaender for some songs that became Marlene Dietrich classics. Sullivan delivered a medley of "Falling In Love Again" and "I Couldn't Be Annoyed" with cute and delicious Dietrich-like detachment, while she and Kohler provided nationalistic and idealistic intensity on "Muenchhausen," Hollaender's eulogy to a Weimar that was falling to Hitler, and on "The Ruins of Berlin," with Kohler adding the German lyrics about the country's potential post-war reawakening. (Please click Page 2 below to continue.)
This cleverly-structured and enthrallingly entertaining revue came full circle and ended on a lighter note when Sullivan and Kohler entered again from the rear of the theater for an encore of "My Lips They Kiss So Hot" into the Leonard Cohen song "Take This Waltz." "I'll dance with you in Vienna," sang Kohler before taking Sullivan in her arms so they could cavort on the stage during the piano break on Lehar's "Merry Widow Waltz."
Yes, life is a cabaret, and this show is what cabaret can be all about. Wunderbar!
KT Sullivan and Karen Kohler return to Stage 72 with Vienna to Weimar on February 17, 24 and March 3, 10, all at 7pm. For reservations, call: 800-838-3006 or get tickets online at: www.stage72.com.