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

| October 9, 2014
Christopher Logan and Michael Reyes star in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness)        
      
A Kurt Weill Cabaret

Directed by Fred Anzevino  
Arranged by Jeremy Ramey
at No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood (map)
thru Oct 19  |  tickets: $25-$29   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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Young cast struggles with subtleties of Weill’s layered compositions

     

Christopher Logan, Kellie Cundiff, Jordan Phelps, Jill Sesso and Michael Reyes in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness)

    
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre presents
    
A Kurt Weill Cabaret

Review by Catey Sullivan 

If Oscar Hammerstein’s music is the stuff of wholesome prairie sunshine and soaring blue skies, Kurt Weill is a noir, disconcertingly sensual cityscape besieged by needles of sleet.

Christopher Logan, Jordan Phelps and Michael Reyes in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness)Often dark, frequently dissonant and studded with close, intricate harmonies that require a keen ear lest the whole number collapse, the music of Kurt Weill is as treacherous as it is haunting. With A Kurt Weill Cabaret, Theo Ubique puts a very young cast through the German composer’s paces. The result is, to put it gently, not great. Part of the problem lies in the sheer youth of the cast. Go ahead and call me ageist. I’ll still assert that, like the blues, capturing the knife-edged pain and the achingly beautiful bleakness of Weill’s music requires the sort of experience that one simply can’t accrue before one hits a certain age somewhere north of 30something.

With rare exception, vocalists need to have survived some serious heartache to authentically deliver the complex shadings of cynicism, sorrow and gallows humor embedded in Weill’s music. Directed by Fred Anzevino, Theo Ubique’s fresh-faced cast radiates wholesomeness and optimism, even when they’re singing about murder and prostitutes. Giving them make-up pallors and cavernous under-eye circles doesn’t suffice.

The exception here is pianist Jeremy Ramey, the show’s musical director as well as the creator of the arrangements. Technically, he’s dazzling, executing a dizzying onslaught of harmonies, melodies and counterpoints with pinpoint precision and fluid confidence. Emotionally, he’s just as potent, instilling Weill’s music with the sharp pangs of alienation and weariness that permeates so much of it.

Jill Sesso and Kellie Cundiff in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness) Jordan Phelps, Jill Sesso, Christopher Logan, Kellie Cundiff and Michael Reyes in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness)Jill Sesso and Kellie Cundiff in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness) Michael Reyes, Jordan Phelps and Christopher Logan in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness)

The vocalists (Kellie Cundiff, Christopher Logan, Jordan Phelps, Michael Reyes and Jill Sesso) lack that edge. Some of Ramey’s arrangements, as piercing as they are instrumental, fall flat vocally. Among those is “Alabama Song,” part of the intricate “Mahagonny Songspiel.” The cantata starts out altogether too cheerfully with “Show me the way to the next whiskey bar”, the refrain rendered uber-familiar by Jim Morrison. It sounds more like a rollicking party tune than a cry of desperation here, and I’d argue that the latter is more in keeping with the restless spirit of Weill. But where the piece really stumbles is in the non-singing portions. The delivery of these spoken interludes gives the song a cheesy, retro-pop feel that’s barely a step removed from camp.

Where the ensemble fares best is when tenor Jordan Phelps solos on numbers, including “Here I’ll Stay” and “Lonely House.” The male ensemble (Phelps, baritone-bass Reyes and sinewy dance captain Logan) also successfully sells “The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria,” perhaps because, of the 17 songs in the review, it’s the most upbeat and overtly humorous.

But most of the music here is just the opposite of that, and the ensemble stumbles significantly in pinpointing the difficult harmonies (and anti-harmonies) as well as that all-important mood of profound, existential angst.

Christie Kerr’s choreography is serviceable, and set designer Adam Veness’ set – a shadowy mix of tattered fishnets and battered wood – impressively transforms the tiny No Exit Café into an atmospheric hole-in-the-wall that’s equal parts romance, heartbreak and danger. Alas, the labyrinthine subtleties of Weill’s jagged compositions – both in emotional mood and in musical mode – are lost.

  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

A Kurt Weill Cabaret continues through October 19th at No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 7pm.  Tickets are $25-$29 (dinner available for an additional $25 here), and are available by phone (800-595-4849) or online through Tix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Theo-U.com(Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Michael Reyes, Jill Sesso, Jordan Phelps, Christopher Logan and Kellie Cundiff in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness)

Photos by Adam Veness 


     

artists

cast

Kellie Cundiff, Christopher Logan, Jordan Phelps, Michael Reyes, Jill Sesso

behind the scenes

Fred Anzevino (director), Jeremy Ramey (musical direction, arrangements), Christie Kerr (choreography), Maya Michele Fein (lighting design), Mary-Catherine Mikalayunas (stage manager), Bill Morey (costume designer), Adam Veness (scenic and props designer, photos), Adam Webster (general manager)

Jordan Phelps, Christopher Logan and Michael Reyes in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness)Michael Reyes, Jordan Phelps, Christopher Logan, Jill Sesso, Kellie Cundiff and Jeremy Ramey in Theo Ubique's "A Kurt Weill Cabaret," arranged by Jeremy Ramey, directed by Fred Anzevino. (photo credit: Adam Veness)

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Category: 2014 Reviews, Cabaret-Concert, Catey Sullivan, New Work, No Exit Cafe, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre

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