BWW Review: Timeliness Meets Timelessness in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO KURT WEILL at Urban Stages' WINTER RHYTHMS
In THE WORLD ACCORDING TO Kurt Weill, one of the more than 20 shows put together to form the Winter Rhythms festival benefiting arts education, old met new and timeliness met timelessness.
At Urban Stages on December 6, six skilled performers were assembled to interpret several of the most well-known songs of the composer Kurt Weill (who died in the year 1950), through the lens of the world as we see it in 2016. This meant that each song from shows such as ONE TOUCH OF VENUS or THREEPENNY OPERA was introduced with a framing device that was the statement of an accurate and modern headline or situation ("The Refugee Crisis in Syria Worsens," "Donald Trump Wins the Election in Shocking Upset").
Throughout the piece, written by William V. Madison and helmed by director Peter Napolitano with musical direction from Eric Sedgwick, each song was performed as written more than 65 years ago and required no tweaking to increase relevance today, despite its original intent to comment upon issues such as, oh, the Great Depression or the rise of Hitler's Nazi Germany.
In addition to several astounding group performances, specifically "Economics" from LOVE LIFE and "Army Song" from THREEPENNY, each performer was also given (at least) one chance for a standout moment all their own from those two shows and more.
Adam B. Shapiro performed a robust interpretation of "Song of the Big Shot," from HAPPY END, which made a clearest cut case that he play Tevye in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in the near future. Janice Hall stood out with THREEPENNY's feisty tune, "Private Jenny." Lianne Marie Dobbs electrified the house early on with "Barbara Song," as did Brian Charles Rooney at what would have been the top of the second act, had there been an intermission, both singing numbers from THREEPENNY. Seasoned NYC cabaret performer Minda Larsen had two roof-raising moments with "Green-Up Time" from LOVE LIFE and KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY's "It Never Was You," as did Dan Guller, who was delightful and inciting on both "How Do You Tell an American?" (also from KNICKERBOCKER HOLIDAY) and the title track from LOST IN THE STARS.
For those philistines who question or doubt the importance of art, I wish so badly they could have been present on this evening in this small Garment District theater. Given the events which have taken place throughout the past year, but more specifically the past month, I surely don't have to enumerate the ways in which an audience was unnerved to realize songs written to sharply remark upon one of the most brutal fascist regimes in human history were also precisely apt on this day a near century later.
What I would like to illuminate, though, and which ties in to both to the endurance of art as well as the fact that this show was part of a larger mission to provide funding for continued arts education, is that we in the room were also able to laugh several times. We laughed at the skillfully funny performances, and we laughed at the absurdity that, clearly, nothing ever really changes. Art is always necessary, but it is the most necessary in times of macro-level tension, so as to chew it up and spit it out with micro-level sensibility. As evidenced by his songbook, no one knew that better than Kurt Weill, and it is too bad he isn't around today to see how well his music has held true--- though, on second thought, maybe he's the lucky one.