When Cecile Tang told me that our mutual friend, Tony Award-winning actor/producer/director Paul Sand, had created and
was directing a musical called KURT WEILL AT THE
CUTTLEFISH HOTEL, along with Tim Robbins'
Actor's Gang, at their theatre (9070 Culver Blvd.
downtown Culver City, 310-838-4264, street parking or at Trader Joe's across the street), I was hooked. After all, I've seen about a dozen presentations of the Kurt Weill-Bertold Brecht musical, The Three Penny Opera, in my lifetime...and could see another dozen with ease. (You may remember that this musical is based upon John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, set in Victorian London. This is the musical which features that stunning song, Mack the Knife, made famous with versions by such diverse singers as Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and Sinatra. It also features a fierce song called Pirate Jenny. (Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, won a Tony Award in '56 for her Jenny
portrayal off-Broadway at Theater de Lys in the Village, which I saw.)
In Culver City, Sands has enlisted Michael Roth as his Musical Director, and then brought in two incredibly talented women, Shay Astar and Kalean Ung, with agile Australian-born performer Sol Mason assisting him in the performances. (He reminds me of the great Ray Bolger.) Barbara Bosson produces. You will see a show here unlike anything else on a local stage, a tour-de-force so exciting and powerful that I am planning another visit before it closes on July 11th. Hey, Wallis people, are you listening? It would work beautifully there.
This show is a haunting musical set in a seedy waterside hotel full of heartbreak and intrigue. The brilliant cast sings works of the beloved composer Weill and renowned lyricist Brecht - songs of murder and revenge, with astonishing power. The four musicians are also rather extraordinary, and Paul told me that he discovered the violinist, Tamboura Baptiste, playing on the Santa Monica Pier. Hope Easton plays the cello and Laura Vall does the keyboards, with Amy White on the fascinating harmonium. Michal Roth plays and conducts them ably.
There are nine songs from various of the Weill-Brecht works, including "Happy End" and the magnificent "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagony." Shay Astar opens with Mack the Knife, and someone said that her cool luscious voice seems like "equal parts ice cream and razor blades." She later sings the riveting Surabaya Johnny, eliminating all memories of Patti Lupone's version. Her fellow singer, the extraordinary Kalean Ung then does The Barbara Song and Pirate Jenny. Narrator/singer-dancer Sol Mason grips us with The Insufficiency of Human Behavior, here called "The Luck Song," and then Paul Sand does his inimitably savage Macheath. He moved me with his performance of In Which He Begs All Men for Forgiveness, while Mason leads the two women in Solomon's Song.
On a bare stage with just a few wooden chairs, a newspaper, a bowler hat and an apron, Sands wears a single blood-red glove as he brings us all into his fascinating waterside venue. Then all four participants end the show with a rousing rendition of Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar). The sound system is so brilliantly clear that you can catch every lyrical nuance, a rarity.
This is such a memorable evening that I can only suggest you get there before it closes...because you will then want to see it once again.
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