Kurt Weill, the consummate composer, could mix European-style music with Broadway razzle-dazzle. He's noted for his innovative collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, as well as his work with Ira Gershwin and Ogden Nash.
But for music lovers, Weill is probably best known for numbers such as "Mack the Knife" from The Threepenny Opera and the pop standard "The September Song" from the rarely performed Knickerbocker Holiday, which The Collegiate Chorale is both performing and producing at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, Jan. 25 and 26.
It boasts a stellar cast, including Kelli O'Hara and Victor Garber, as well as Ben Davis, Bryce Pinkham and David Garrison. The show debuted in 1938 with music by Weill and book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, one of the foremost playwrights of his day. Anderson, a longtime pacifist, distrusted the political power concentrated in FDR's New Deal. While Knickerbocker Holiday is a romantic comedy, a hybrid form somewhere between an operetta and musical theater, it also resonates as political allegory.
The play opens in 1809; Washington Irving hopes to write an enduring work of American literature, so he sets his story in the 17th century. Peter Stuyvesant is en route to New Amsterdam to become its first governor. When he arrives, the corrupt town council (including one of FDR's ancestors) tries to distract him -- with unexpected results.
The production is directed by Ted Sperling and conducted by James Bagwell with The Collegiate Chorale and the American Symphony Orchestra. Bagwell commented on the significance of the piece:
Is the political critique unusual in a musical? This style was not atypical of Broadway shows of the 1930s, as several were veiled critiques of the political world. Of Thee I Sing by George Gershwin is another famous example.
What makes the show noteworthy for audiences? Kurt Weill's music is the most compelling element of this work. The songs in the show are outstanding and demonstrate his amazing ability to assimilate the Broadway style with considerable ease and grace.
What special challenges does it pose for the performers? There is a considerable amount of text that has to be clearly and carefully articulated. It is difficult to sing in English!
This Kurt Weill piece is rarely done. Why did you select it? One of the missions of the Collegiate Chorale is to perform under-served works, for which Knickerbocker Holiday certainly applies. In addition, we felt that the piece deserved a hearing with a great cast, a great orchestra and a wonderful chorus.
For more information: Tickets are available online at www.collegiatechorale.org, or call (646) 202-9623.
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