note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Earlier this month the Brooklyn Academy of Music staged Kurt Weill's neglected opera "The Eternal Road" as part of New York's celebrations of his centenary. In Boston a magician named Kate Sullivan has created a simple yet elegant script out of Weill's actual letters to his wife, Lotte Lenya. Sullivan cleverly invents Lenya's side of the correspondence, where none now exists, by answering his letters in song --- his songs, of course. Sullivan also portrays Lenya, transforming herself with the drop of a jaw, the delicate slur of a phrase a la Lenya, and the studied shrug of the nonchalant.
Sullivan as Lenya and Evans Travis as Weill sit at desks on either side of an orchestra ... an "echt" German band of accordion, banjo, violin, tuba and piano.
Never has a banjo sounded so genuinely German, especially in the hands of Crick Diefendorf. Sullivan and director Marshall Hughes have assembled a first class orchestra with Robert Cassan on accordion, Valentine Gregor on violin, Paul Dosier on tuba and Ellen Polansky on piano. Listening to the orchestra center stage you focus on Weill's uncanny mixture of gypsy, folk, dancehall, and klezmer ... his father was a cantor, after all.
Despite being separated by an ocean (and, in the play, by an orchestra) the couple's letters paint a lively and surprisingly complete portrait of their stormy years together and apart: in marriage, divorce and remarriage. Travis' performance as Weill is all the more remarkable because he has only text to work with. Sullivan gets to croon, carry on, and cavort with the other men in her life. Hughes and Aaron Engebreth play rival singers vying for her attention --- the latter portraying her lover. A resigned Weill even sends his regards to his rival in one letter.
Sullivan gives a tour de force performance, delivering searing renditions of favorites like "Mack The Knife" and "The Pirate Jenny Song" from "The Threepenny Opera" and "Surabaya Johnny" from "The Happy End" (in perfect German!). In the context of their correspondence this speaks volumes about their off again, on again relationship.
Weill fans will be amazed at Sullivan's artistry and enchanted by his affectionate letters. Newcomers to the fold will be mesmerized by the lean and hungry songs and delighted with Sullivan's charmingly devil-may-care Lenya.