The Playgoer: HateMusik

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Thursday, May 03, 2007


playing at Brecht & Weill

(Credit: Carol Rosegg)

As we await tonight's opening and tomorrow's reviews of the new Hal Prince Kurt Weill bio-musical Lovemusik (a presentation of MTC), I can't resist passing on this sneak preview offered me by Prof. David Savran, who, in addition to being a renowned theatre scholar in general, is a lover of musicals and all things Brecht-Weill. (I actually took a Weill class with him at CUNY.)

Let's just say I'd been hearing the show was bad. But not this bad.

(Warning: the following contains material not suitable for Hal Prince or Alfred Uhry. Reader discretion advised.)

I think it a despicable piece of theatre. Not only is it completely inept--they made every error they could possibly make short of reorchestrating the music for a band of ukeleles--but they totally erased Weill's politics. And Brecht's, for that matter. The only trace of Weill's politics was in his portrayal as a Jew who didn't like Hitler (amazing!!). Brecht became a womanizing, hypocritical buffoon.

The book, by Alfred Uhry, the man who unleashed Driving Miss Daisy upon the world, is an object lesson in how not to write a musical. Most of the play made no sense at all and what did was ludicrously stereotyped and sentimentalized. They threw in every imaginable cliche about Berlin in the '20s, using accents borrowed from "Hogan's Heroes." And every imaginable cliché about the misunderstood artist, except that it never became clear how or about what Weill was misunderstood.

Plus, it was visually ugly. And in an age when most every production is well designed, that is a real feat. It is as if they set out to make the worst musical imaginable and to sabotage utterly the work of Weill and Brecht, to ensure that no one in their right mind would ever want to hear or perform these songs again. And the actors--some of the best in New York--were just hung out to dry. My theatre-going companion summed it up thusly: "if only the people up there had been given a chance to display their gifts... if only weill and lenya and brecht had really been allowed to speak..."

This morning I went to listen to Lenya singing Weill and, alas, I could not get Donna Murphy's squeaky, quarter-tone flat voice of my head! Their idea of "character" singing is to hover just under pitch and to squeak, squawk, or bellow. I just hope they have not forever destroyed my love of Lenya—and Weill.
For the other side, here's an NPR puff piece.

Let's see what happens tomorrow. The curse of the Biltmore continues...?

UPDATE, 5/4: Then again, if you're Ben Brantley, LoveMusik is "sluggish, tedious and (hold your breath) unmissable"!

Has MTC dodged a bullet?

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