Berlin and Broadway are two places you most likely wouldn’t associate with each other. Not only are the two different by definition - a country versus a stretch of road - they’re hundreds of miles apart, separating them physically and ideologically.
However, Kurt Weill managed to not only travel from Berlin to Broadway, but each was home to him at different points in his life in "Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill: A Musical Voyage."
The musical revue is based on the life of Weill himself, a Jewish musical composer who began writing musicals in Germany, fled the country after Nazi occupation and ended up immigrating to the U.S. and creating several hit Broadway musicals, including “Lady in the Dark,” “One Touch of Venus” and “The Firebrand of Florence.”
Many songs from Weill’s Broadway career and his songwriting career outside of his stage works are included in the revue, with a guide leading the audience through Weill’s journey from Berlin to Broadway.
Bridging these two times in Weill’s life and work is something that Bruce Speas, associate producer of Theatre History and Directing and the show’s director describes as complex.
“Weill’s early work of his youth, formed around pre-war Germany in the 20s and early 30s, has a harder, driving, discord to it. It’s almost disjointed …once Weill comes to America in late 1935, his work is still fascinating but tends to become more lyrical,” said Speas.
According to Christopher Swanson, musical director and professor of Voice, Diction for Singers and Opera Workshop, the gap in time has to be bridged physically and musically.
“[Weill] only lived to be 50 years old but in the thirty years of his career he composed symphonies, songs, chamber music, ballets and 30 musicals and operas," said Swanson. "What is fascinating is that as Weill moved he adapted his compositional style to meet the styles of each country yet he kept his individual artist style."
There’s also the pressures that can come from performing such well-known songs and doing them justice.
“His (Weill's) style is totally distinctive. We've been working to find interpretations of each song that fit our singers' voices," said Swanson. "It's easy to imitate a recording. It's far more challenging, but far more gratifying to create a new interpretation."
There are pressures that come with producing any show, especially one that features such a well-known musician, which Speas is aware of.
“Weill’s music often surprises you. You think the progression of musical notes are headed one way and suddenly Weill goes in another direction," said Speas. "Also, just the fact that many of the songs in Berlin To Broadway are so well known and recognizable, everyone wants to do them justice.”
There are also struggles that come with putting on a production that tackles such a broad scope: two different countries, two time periods and one of the most famous places in the history of theatre.
“There are technical issues, such as costuming. There is a definite feel to the costumes in the first act that emotionally connect to the 20s and 30s Berlin and Paris; then in the second half an effort was made to get an American feel to the costumes,” said Speas.
Performances of “Berlin to Broadway” will be April 10-13 at 7 p.m., with matinees April 13 and 14 at 2 p.m. in the Mainstage Theatre in CSTAC. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $8 for senior citizens, Longwood faculty and non-Longwood students (school ID required).