Theater Reviews

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Biltmore Theatre, New York
Through June 17


There's much to admire in "LoveMusik" -- the new Broadway musical about the relationship between famed composer Kurt Weill and actress Lotte Lenya -- including superb performances by Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy in the lead roles, incisive staging by Harold Prince (directing his first Broadway musical in nearly a decade) and, of course, the glorious Weill songs that comprise the score.

Unfortunately, these qualities are somewhat negated by the book by Alfred Uhry ("Driving Miss Daisy"), which was "suggested" by the duo's correspondence. Episodic and schematic, it more closely resembles a Hollywood biopic than an artful examination of not only the central relationship but also the stormy collaboration between Weill and playwright Bertolt Brecht (David Pittu). The latter in particular doesn't come off particularly well here, resembling a cranky graduate student rather than the brilliant author of plays like "Mother Courage and Her Children."

The show benefits from the intimacy afforded it in the Manhattan Theatre Club production housed in the Biltmore Theatre, more commonly used for straight plays.

The show tracks in chronological form the complex relationship between Weill and the woman who also served as his artistic muse, most notably with her starring turn in "The Threepenny Opera." It depicts their meeting in Berlin, where they almost instantly became lovers; their troubled, sexually open marriage and twilight years in America; and concludes, appropriately, with a glimpse at Lenya's legendary starring turn in the off-Broadway revival of "Threepenny."

Uhry's book, rather than attempting to provide a modern variation on the sort of stylistic works that Weill wrote with Brecht, relates the tale in a stilted, cliched fashion, with Weill reduced to statements like, regarding his collaboration with the difficult Brecht: "He is good for the music. I have no say in the matter." We see the roots of Lenya's wanderlust with Weill pronouncements like, "You come first with me, right after the music."

Still, there are many moments that resonate both dramatically and comedically, and the performers bring subtle depths to their characterizations that aren't always present in the writing. They also, supported by members of the ensemble, perform the bracing music beautifully. It includes more than two dozen numbers written by Weill, both with Brecht and with his numerous other collaborators. The well-known songs are here, of course, but there also are numerous rarities, like the hilarious Hitler-bashing number "Schickelgruber" (lyrics by Howard Dietz).

Much as he did with "Cabaret" so many years ago, Prince delivers a remarkably fluid and adept production that effortlessly transitions between the show's book scenes and the atmospheric musical numbers staged by Patricia Birch.

Cerveris does a beautiful job of portraying Weill's anal recessive qualities as well as his blazing artistic passion. Murphy is even better; virtually unrecognizable and speaking in a high-pitched, girlish voice that bears little relationship to her normal tones, she delivers far more than an impersonation. It is a fierce, funny interpretation that is as unforgettable as its inspiration.

LOVEMUSIK
Presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club
by special arrangement with Marty Bell, Aldo Scrofani, Boyett Ostar Prods., Tracy Aron, Roger Berlind/Debra Black, Chase Mishkin and Ted Snowdon
Credits:
Book: Alfred Uhry
Music: Kurt Weill
Director: Harold Prince
Musical staging: Patricia Birch
Set designer: Beowulf Boritt
Costume designer: Judith Dolan
Lighting designer: Howell Binkley
Sound designer: Duncan Robert Edwards
Cast:
Kurt Weill: Michael Cerveris
Lotte Lenya: Donna Murphy
Bertolt Brecht: David Pittu
George Davis: John Scherer
Woman on Stairs/Brecht's Woman: Judith Blazer
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