BWW Review: SU Drama's BERLIN TO BROADWAY WITH KURT WEILL: A MUSICAL VOYAGE Connects Weill's Music and Today's World at Syracuse Stage
The Syracuse University (SU) Department of Drama is performing the powerful and engaging music of German composer Kurt Weill in its production of Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage at the Storch Theatre at Syracuse Stage. The entertaining production, directed by Syracuse University faculty member David Lowenstein, sets course from 1930s Berlin to 1950s America, the time in which Weill's avant-garde style and gorgeous music gained international fame.
The musical showcases many of Weill's works such as The Threepenny Opera, Knickerbocker Holiday, and Lost in the Stars, plus much more. The impressive musical journey that Lowenstein delivers on stage showcases the amazing talents of the SU students in small group numbers and duets. It is performed with a cast of ten, instead of a cast of four as originally done in 1974.
The cast size isn't the only difference though. The production features a more updated set and some reconfigured vocal arrangements. Sofia Zavala's innovative scenic design suggests a boat, but is a more abstract representation of a boat rather than a literal one. Her set pieces easily move across the stage, allowing more creative staging and choreography, as well as effortless scene transitions. Andy LiDestri's lighting also supports the effortless scene changes in addition to establishing mood.
As noted in the program, the changes in the production are "Lowenstein's way of honoring the past without separating it entirely from a modern audience." While Lowenstein's take on the material is more contemporary, the production appropriately acknowledges that Weill's work discusses subjects that are still very relevant today such as immigration, nationalism, and identity.
In addition to a strong concept and material, the production also benefits from an amazingly talented and passionate cast of SU Drama students who work together a single professional unit. With the help of Jessica Crawford's highly detailed and era-appropriate costumes, they easily create various characters within the songs, and play off each other as needed. Each actor has their moment in the spotlight to showcase their triple threat talents of singing, dancing, and acting. There is no weak link.
McKenna Batterson's standout number is "My Ship" from Lady in the Dark; her beautiful and angelic voice soars. Madi Beumee shows off her serious vocal chops in "That's Him" from One Touch of Venus. Markcus Blair passionately sings "Lost in the Stars" and confidently sings "Mack the Knife." Sondrine Bontemps gorgeous soprano voice soars in "I Wait for a Ship" from Marie Galante. Tucker Breder's powerful tenor voice is captivating and highly memorable in numbers such as "Bilbao Song," "Deep in Alaska," "Johnny's Song," and "Lonely House."
Kristen Kozma's confidence, acting, and powerful voice shine throughout. Some of her memorable moments include "Jealousy Duet," her passionate rendition of "Surabaya Johnny," "Alabama Song," and "Cry the Beloved Country." Andrew Ryan's shining moments include "Bilbao Song," "September Song," and "Progress;" his execution of Andrea Leigh-Smith's intricate choreography also makes a lasting impression. Gabrielle Samels shows off her spunk and impressive lower register in numbers such as "Barbara Song." Her intricate dancing skills, along with those of Matthew Steriti, make "Moon-Faced, Starry Eyed" a highlight.
Last, but certainly not least, Zofia Weretka shines every chance she gets on stage, but especially in her spotlight stealing number "Saga of Jenny" from Lady in the Dark. Here, Weretka shows off her powerful Broadway belt and high kicks. Zofia Weretka's other memorable moments include "Pirate Jenny" and "Trouble Man."
The most emotional and captivating moment is the number "Lost in the Stars." Lowenstein has Markcus Blair begin to sing the song in modern clothes and then the entire cast enters in their modern wardrobe to sing "Love Song," connecting Weill's music with the world today. The moment was breathtaking.
It's a brilliant and beautiful production. The powerful show, featuring the captivating and glorious music of Kurt Weill, still resonates today and is not to be missed.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage runs through May 13, 2017 at the Storch Theatre in the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex, 820 E. Genesee Street. For tickets and information, click here, or call (315)443-3275. For information on upcoming productions at Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex, click here.