United States Into a Lamplit Room: The Songs of Kurt Weill. Aubrey Berg (director), Julie Spangler (musical direction), Joey Dippel (musical staging). College Conservatory of Music. University of Cincinnati, Cohen Studio Theatre. 4.3.13. (RDA)
Nine men and women enter, wearing hats and black overcoats. When the Jewish Prayer for the Dead is said, it becomes immediately clear that we are at a funeral. Then a bespectacled young man in a three-piece suit walks on stage and identifies himself as Kurt Weill. So begins a musical-theatrical journey that offers equal parts of discovery and recognition.
Aubrey Berg has lovingly created a Weill sampler, avoiding clichéd chronology or tiresome geography, instead grouping songs thematically: Peace and War, Women and Song, How can you Tell an American?, Vive la Difference, Into a Lamplit Room. With musical director Julie Spangler and choreographer Joey Dippel in sync with his vision, Berg delivers style in spades, exercising curatorial attention to the intent and spirit of nearly 39 of Weill’s songs. The evening includes iconic Berlin pieces “Pirate Jenny” (from The Threepenny Opera) and “Surabaya Johnny” (from Happy End), Parisian rarities (“Je ne t’aime pas”), and samples of the operatic Weill: “Lonely House” from Street Scene and “Heavenly Salvation” from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.
Each and every one of the ten-person cast is fittingly given his or her solo turn, while some numbers we have grown used to as solos Spangler has turned into ensembles – stunningly so in the case of “Lonely House” and the closing “Lost in the Stars.” Greg Kamp is the authoritative narrator and Kurt Weill figure, and effectively handles both the slickness of “Wouldn’t You Like to Be on Broadway” and the lyricism of “If Love Remains.” Josh Daniel and Catherine Helm—two delightful singer-dancers—reprise “Moon Faced, Starry Eyed,” eliciting the same show-stopping response they earned earlier this season in CCM’s Street Scene.
“Tschaikowsky” is sung at warp speed by the nimbly-comic, bright-voiced Matthew Hill. Hannah Freeman – a lethally-kittenish ingénue—delivers “Pirate Jenny” with cool calm and “That’s Him”with warm allure. Blaine Krauss movingly sings both “The Little Grey House” and the anti-apartheid anthem “Cry, the Beloved Country.” Stephanie Park navigates the calm waters of “I Wait for a Ship” and the turbulence of “Je ne t’aime pas” with a lovely voice—both lyric soprano and chanteuse. Stephanie Cain reveals nuanced comic timing in “Mr. Right.” Emily Schexnaydre takes on “Surabaya Johnny” with seething anger and heartbreak. Collin Kessler—a triple-threat talent—has a hilarious go at Cuban hip-swiveling in “There’s Nothing Left for Daddy (But the Rhumba).”
Julie Spangler could easily take the place of a twenty-piece orchestra with just her ten fingers and the sort of musicality—a neat package that for good measure includes utter sensitivity to the singer-dancer’s needs. Gifted senior Joey Dippel will never lack for work as a choreographer; his musical staging is endlessly inventive, fun, and all at one with the music and the text.
Into a Lamplit Room is made possible by the generous support of the Kurt Weill Foundation. There is one more performance of this beautiful homage to Kurt Weill on Sunday, March 10 at CCM’s Cohen Theatre. Catch it if you can.
Rafael de Acha