Lost in the stars
Berlin to Broadway: A Kurt Weill Cabaret
Art Court Theatre3835 Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95818
A tribute to the work of composer Kurt Weill provides a showcase for the best of City Theatre, where the combination of student performers and techs with community members has made this company a serious and much-loved part of the local theater scene. The company is moving for the next couple of years while construction and renovations close down the Art Court Theatre at Sac City College. We just don’t know yet precisely where.
Berlin to Broadway is certainly worthy of their work, from ingénue to grande dame (and including a number of theater department faculty members). The only complaint is the run time. At two-and-a-half hours, it feels a little long; perhaps less emphasis on Weill’s Berlin years (the most familiar part of his oeuvre, especially given the recent production of The Threepenny Opera at California Stage).
That said, one cannot rave enough about Orlana Klip’s rendition of “Surabaya Johnny,” accompanied by a violent and passionate bit of ballet (performed by Julian Sandoval and Amsale Darden). It’s followed shortly by a disturbing, fascinating rendition of “Pirate Jenny” by Megan O’Laughlin.
The second act is as revelation, for although Weill’s musical theater work after he emigrated to the United States was popular, it is not often performed these days. In particular, the songs from Knickerbocker Holiday, Weill’s collaboration with Maxwell Anderson, hold up well over time: “There’s Nowhere to Go But Up” and “How Can You Tell an American?” are both very contemporary in theme. They’re given a delightful production by Janet Caddel, Martha Kight, Lew Rooker and the ensemble.
Another amazingly contemporary song—in meaning, if not in the old vaudeville-type soft-shoe song-and-dance production given it by Bradley Moates and Zach Sapunor—is “Progress,” which happily highlights the ups and downs of business speculation. Several songs from Street Scene, a Weill show that included lyrics by Elmer Rice and Langston Hughes, also include some peculiar humor, such as “Lullaby,” which includes drunken, battling parents and some nonstop crying action.
The show’s finale is the title song from Weill’s last produced work, Lost in the Stars, a collaboration with Anderson based on Alan Paton’s novel of apartheid in South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country.
The production, directed by Adrienne Sher, takes full advantage of the range of voices available. It also benefits from the live orchestra—which includes many of the players switching off on piano, stand-up base, a couple of guitars, drums, trumpets and clarinets—and J.C. Nicholson on the accordion. Jesse Valerio directs the music so that it is organic to the production.
Weill’s biography provides the overarching narrative, and the songs (rather roughly, in the first act) follow the course of his career. For the audience, this makes clear the profound effect that Weill’s emigration had on his musical style, as the songs in the second act become more and more “smooth” and poplike. The heavy, Teutonic rhythms of his work in The Threepenny Opera become much more subtle, supporting the music rather than overwhelming it. The transformation is astonishing.
We can only hope that the same will be said of the renovated Art Court Theatre when it reopens to inaugurate another era in Sacramento City College’s lauded theatrical career. In the interim, announcements about venues for next season will be forthcoming. No matter where they perform, we’re certain that the students and community members who make up the troupe will be stars, rather than lost in them.