Review: “A Kurt Weill Cabaret” (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre)

L-R: Michael Reyes, Jordan Phelps, Christopher Logan Photo by Adam Veness
L-R: Michael Reyes, Jordan Phelps, Christopher Logan
Photo by Adam Veness

Show: A Kurt Weill Cabaret

Company: Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

Venue: No Exit Cafe

Die Roll: 14

Back in another lifetime I worked at a public radio station in Iowa.  On one of the weekend days we would run the Texaco Met Opera broadcasts live.  During the Met’s off-season, we would air broadcasts from other opera companies around the country, one of which was the Lyric.  Anyway… I don’t know which opera company it was that performed the version of Kurt Weill’s (and Berthold Brecht’s) “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”, but I do know that that broadcast was directly responsible for that becoming one of my favorite operas of all time.  So… as the opportunity to take in an evening of Weill’s music presented itself on my charts, I was quite excited.  Even more so when it was rolled.

Now, despite loving much of Weill’s early work, I was not terribly well-versed in his later career.  There were songs in this show that I knew, but had know idea were by Weill.  It was an evening of pleasant surprises.

The structure of the show was simply and straight-forward cabaret: songs and nothing but.  Five performers sang the pieces, and they were accompanied by solo piano.  This simplicity let the music shine through beautifully.

Split into two acts, the show started with music from Weill’s days in Germany.  His operatic works came from this period, so familiar tunes from “Threepenny Opera” were the stars of this act for most people, I imagine.  Although, the company held out on “Mack the Knife” until the final number of the evening.  For me, the highlight of the first act was Jordan Phelps.  I know, he’s an actor, not a highlight, but each time he took the stage to sing, it was wondrous.  My wife, who was in attendance with me, related on the walk home that she would pay to hear Phelps sing just about anything.  A phone book may have been one suggestion.

The rest of the cast was solid, but it seemed their voices matched up better with the second act, which was filled with the tunes that Weill wrote after he moved to America.  In writing music for the words of Ogden Nash, Langston Hughes, Alan Jay Lerner, and some guy named Ira Gershwin, Weill proved that he didn’t need the dirty, grungy, angst of Brecht’s proletariats to motivate the melodies.  Christopher Logan was my favorite of this segment.  His voice gelled with the swinging songs, and carried the slower ballad “West Wind” beautifully.

Michael Reyes, Jill Sesso, and Kellie Cundiff rounded out the quintet, and each of them brought strong performances to the table.  Due to his vocal range in the lower register, Reyes wasn’t featured as much as I’d hoped.  I loved his voice, and would have liked to hear more.  Sesso and Cundiff were at their best when they were singing together, which is one reason I find myself wondering why the decision was made to talk-sing the “Alabama Song” segment of the “Mahagonny Songspiel”.  Given that anyone who had a “Best of the Doors” record/tape/CD would know the melody, and it was being actively played by the piano, I was surprised that the ladies weren’t allowed to bring that tune to life.

All-in-all, it was an enjoyable evening.  I am happy to recommend “A Kurt Weill Cabaret”.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Truly beautiful songs from Germany and Hollywood shine all night.

RATING: d12- “Heckuva Good Show”