Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brecht-Weill (und Leimbacher)



On the boards right now at the Biltmore in New York City, staged by Manhattan Theatre Club, is a musical play titled LoveMusik concerning the strange but compelling marriage of Lotte Lenya and Kurt Weill--created by well-known playwright Alfred Uhry and directed by the legendary Harold Prince. But I'm getting ahead of my story...

In the late Eighties I had it in my head to try writing plays. I attended workshops and staged readings, had season tickets to a couple of Seattle theatres, etc. Most of my fledgling attempts at one-acts and full-scale works went nowhere, but one did arouse some interest from a local group and did evolve to a staged reading. Nothing beyond that, however, as local mainstages then turned me down.

So I went national, in fact sort of international...

Let's pause here as I reveal that the play was titled Brecht und Weill and had as its plot the experiences of those German artists (and Lotte Lenya) in the year-and-some from the end of 1928 to the spring of 1930, between their massive all-Europe success with Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera and the follow-up premiere of the next collaboration, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny/The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which turned into a theatre riot that literally presaged the Nazi takeover of all of Germany (forcing the later emigration of the three from Germany, and eventual move to America).

My play (he said modestly) had brilliant characters, personal conflicts, social concerns, great music, interesting scenes/settings, and more--and basically all I did was put down in words what actually happened among them all in Berlin and elsewhere during that period: the increasing friction between somewhat-sleazy politico Bert and stolid-but-brilliant musician Kurt, the pressure from society for another theatrical hit, the Hitler-driven attacks on Jewish ideas and lefty politics, etc. And my staging followed the Brecht-Weill model too, with projections of newsreels, photo stills, verbal signs, and more, focused on backstage scenes at various rehearsals and events so the Weill music could be utilized subtly, usually offstage so to speak, rather than in Broadway-belting fashion.

I thought of Sting, ex- of the Police, as a perfect choice for Brecht, so I managed to get an address for him in London (Hampstead, I think it was) and sent off a copy for his consideration. Never heard a word back, but gee, golly, who should turn up as Macheath or was it the singing Narrator, in a new version of Threepenny a few years later? Yep, Sting. Wonder where that notion came from...

Meanwhile I had also decided to try the Broadway people, and maneuvered to get copies to Harold Prince (yes, the same man mentioned up above) and his sort of power figure, but had the play copies returned as unsolicited and therefore not to be read--a protective legal action most artists resort to when faced with unwanted mail-in stuff from strangers. Not that the idea of Brecht and Weill might not be filed away, however...

Undaunted, I sent a copy and explanatory letter to Kim Kowalke, famed as a Weill scholar, but also on the Board of Trustees of the Kurt Weill Foundation in New York City (established originally by Lenya, or with her blessing anyway). Kowalke wrote me back and we exchanged a couple of letters thereafter. He praised much of the play's accuracy, warned me about the Foundation's protective policies regarding Weill's music (all adaptations as opposed to straight renditions would be frowned on and require negotiation, if not actually be prevented). He also officially entered the copy into the library or stacks or whatever of the Foundation (or so he wrote anyway); who knows, maybe I could visit and look it up!

But again the idea of a production went nowhere. I ran out of leads and abandoned the whole project, promising my amateur-playwright self that one day I would get back to it...

Now we can return to 2007, a decade and more later. Uhry's play LoveMusik has not been getting great reviews--too bad, because these brilliant and thorny characters cry out for a suitable stage presentation. The comments by critics complain about the diffuse storyline, stretched out over decades and mostly neglecting Brecht, rather than focused on any one or two periods, or on the difficult relationship of the several key figures. The carpers also point out that the music, those amazing songs, are used unimaginatively. The lead actors aren't getting much praise either.

As a different Kurt might say, "So it goes."

Meanwhile, anybody wanta put on a play about those crazy Germans, Kurt and Bert? I know this writer, we could get a barn...

2 comments:

Sitka Girl said...

Cheers from Anchorage Alaska.

I Witness said...

hello backatcha, from the Marsh of the All-Day Rain to the Land of the Midnight Sun.