BWW Review: MACK THE KNIFE IS THE MAN I LOVE at KC Lyric Opera
Saturday night saw the continuance of the KC Lyric Opera's "Explorations" series with "Mack the Knife is The Man I Love", a musical entertainment featuring the music of the Gershwins & Kurt Weill. The Lyric elected to use the evening to favor us with the talents of some of their up-and-coming resident artists to overall very pleasant effect.
The performance was broken more-or-less into four "scenes" in which the singer(s) would perform while play-acting various character interactions: budding romance, spite, or whatever the music called for. In truth it did border a bit on the silly from time to time, but fortunately not to the detriment of the actual music.
Ah, yes. The music. The two songs name-checked in the title are of course present, as are the perennials: 'S Wonderful, They Can't Take That Away From Me, etc. Also on the bill are quite a number of songs that may not be as well known; this reviewer knows she's not encountered Surabaya Johnny before (turns out it's from Weill's "Happy End").
Actually, moments of pleasant surprise were a sort of sub-theme for the evening, particularly when they elected to put new spins on old classics. Embraceable You, for example, takes on a certain unexpected frisson when rendered as a duet. And just how this reviewer got along so far without hearing The Man I Love in a male voice she'll never know. But the fact is, Joseph Leppek's tenor renders a positive melter of the old classic.
Indeed, all of the young people on display found a moment to shine. Ruby Dibble is proving herself a fine mezzo soprano, with natural stage presence which we suspect will take her far. Kaylie Kahlich has a very pure, clean tone that was a delight to listen to, and Kelly Birch's mezzo has a mature texture to it that was particularly apt for songs like The Saga of Jenny, which she absolutely nailed. Jonathan Ray brings a very rich, full tenor, and Armando Contreras' baritone rounds out the ensemble very nicely indeed, particularly in the group performances.
The musical accompaniment was by Mark Markham, an excellent pianist whose worldwide reputation is well-deserved. With all credit due to the young talents mentioned above, this reviewer could easily have spent the night just listening to Mr. Markham extemporize upon Gershwin. We get a couple of moments where it's just him and the piano, and in those moments the music fairly flows.
All in all it was a most agreeable evening, coming in around ninety minutes with encores, just about the right length for an entertainment of this kind. Overall, the "Explorations" series has been about bringing us the unexpected. Not always as successfully as this evening, but definitely worth the time and trouble of investigating. There is one more performance in the series this season, Penelope on March 30. This song cycle tackles the homecoming of Odysseus from the perspective of his wife. With such an intriguing premise, it promises to be a very interesting evening indeed.