One of the more rueful lines in Glimpses of the Moon, a Jazz Age musical, is the carefree exchange between two women. The young, romance-seeking blonde asks: "Don't you believe in love?" Her more jaded friend snaps back: "I believe in Lehman Bros." In 1922, when Edith Wharton wrote those lines, everyone laughed. Today, they are met with a knowing sigh. Apparently, love is a safer bet.
At least, if you follow the Twenties romp now playing at the Algonquin's Oak Room.
Though the sight lines are a bit compromised, the musical was written specifically for the intimate room, long a cabaret favorite. Playing every Monday at 8 p.m. at the famed hotel, Glimpses of the Moon is a frothy concoction with a tart twist. The show is based on a Wharton book, an author known more for cutting social commentary than comedy. But there are lots of witty lines here, and the production nicely captures an era when the rich lived in a madcap whirl of money, affairs, endless champagne and a casual disregard for anything except their own fun.
Society, personified by Ellie (Jane Blass) and Nelson (Daren Kelly), are a longtime married couple. They are also seriously rich. Their friends Susy (Autumn Hurlbert) and Nick (Chris Peluso) are young, attractive and seriously broke. To remedy that situation, the attractive duo hit on a clever plan: They'll marry for the wedding gifts; then pawn them to live. One caveat: the first one to find a suitable millionaire gets a divorce.
It's a funny premise, and given the aristocratic world of romantic intrigue, it's a practical approach. Of course, life rarely works out as planned. Throw in a British scion right out of a Wodehouse novel (Glenn Peters), an intellectual heiress (Laura Jordan) with a love of archeology - "Genius is wasted on a woman who doesn't know what to do with her hair" - and the unpredictability of l'amour, and Glimpses of the Moon delivers a delicious evening of entertainment.
The set-up is class vs. happiness. In a society that worships money and status, it's all about youth and beauty, and both Nick and Susy need patronage. In their pursuit, they stumble, however inconveniently, onto true love. The musical's dialogue is snappy, and the songs by Tajlei Levis and John Mercurio click. Consider Glimpses escapism with heart.
Kurt Weill was far less sentimental, preferring the rougher, low-class milieu of the streets. Fans of The Threepenny Opera will welcome the U.S. premiere of Weill's rarely performed Marie Galante, produced by Opera Francais de New York in partnership with The French Institute Alliance Française and starring the featured Metropolitan Opera soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. The production, with a fully restored orchestral score, plays at the Florence Gould Hall Nov. 13, 15 and 16.
Marie Galante, which boasts several famous Weill songs, including "J'Attends un Navire" and "Youkali," is the gritty story of a prostitute who is abducted in France and dumped in Panama. Eager to return to Bordeaux, she turns tricks, then gets embroiled in espionage, with disastrous results. The music and the lyrics are edgy and haunting, yet the longing for salvation is real. This production, sung in French with English dialogue and subtitles, is not to be missed.