The conceptual show, directed by Roger Rees and choreographed by Ann Reinking, was first announced as a limited run between May and July, but audiences were seduced in droves to the shadows of late-night performances at Off-Broadway's gritty Zipper Theatre. Weeks were added — and added again and again.
Since May 7, The Zipper, the funky West 37th Street space that uses automobile seats in its auditorium, has been home to the conceptual revue about a lady (Neuwirth) who returns to a crumbling bar to interact with a pianist, a barkeep and two habitués who are both tender and menacing. The music of Kurt Weill (and the lyrics of various writers) fuel the inscrutable work.
Just as some of Weill's famous German songs explored low dives, whiskey bars and untested places, the collaborators found refuge — at 11 PM three nights a week — in the funky Zipper, onetime home to BETTY Rules.
The long run saw cast and pianist changes. Performances at more conventional times (8 PM, for example) were also added later in the run.
The idea of a cast album was explored, but a deal did not materialize. Visit www.zippertheater.com.
The original cast of the Off-Broadway cult musical hit played its last show together 11 PM July 24 before newcomers began July 28 in an expanded schedule that included shows at the more accessible hour of 8 PM Wednesday-Saturday and 7 PM Sundays. Neuwirth and Ed Dixon were with the show from the beginning.
In Here Lies Jenny, Neuwirth plays a down-and out lady — a former chanteuse? — who enters a bar, spars with two drinkers and (along with those thugs, a barkeep and a pianist) sings eclectic songs by composer Weill.
Many Here Lies Jenny shows have been sold out since the run began May 7 and opened May 27.
Starting July 28, joining Neuwirth and Ed Dixon (as the barkeep) were Chris Fenwick (as the pianist, taking over for music supervisor and pianist Leslie Stifelman) and Angelo Fabroni and Julio Monge (as the bar brutes, taking over for Chicago's Greg Butler and Shawn Emamjomeh). Lenny Daniel is an understudy.
Given the Tony Award-winning creative team involved (Neuwirth, director Roger Rees and choreographer Ann Reinking), the warm reviews it received and the fresh territory it covers (Weill isn't exactly overexposed), it's no surprise Here Lies Jenny was extended.
Here Lies Jenny is presented by Maria DiDia, Kathryn Frawley, Hugh Hayes, Martin Platt & The Zipper Theatre with Green Moon Gang.
Based on the description of the world of the new late-night musical, Here Lies Jenny you can almost smell the cigarettes, taste the stale hooch and hear the dissonant notes of Kurt Weill.
Audiences have found the experience to be inscrutable and sensual and challenging: A makeup-free, drably costumed woman (Neuwirth) enters a vaguely European bar where two muscle-bound men are boozing, a lady pianist (in pants) tickles the ivories and a barkeep is both paternal and menacing.
Tiny tensions and conflicts and events — including the shedding of Neuwirth's workaday clothes — are played out with a soundtrack (all live, of course) of songs by Kurt Weill and lyricists he worked with in the first half of the 20th century.
In previews, Neuwirth entered the joint singing "Bilbao Song," a song known by Weill fans but not necessarily a rousing "this-is-who-I-am" show tune. Audiences pricked up their ears, listened to the number and realized they were in for something different — an exploration, an experiment.
The new theatrical musical event aims to exploit the sort of grit, longing and passions associated with the old songs of composer Weill, who penned German cabaret songs and theatre music for Broadway.
According to the announcement, "In Here Lies Jenny, a one-time saloon singer at the end of the line arrives at a bar that, like her, has seen better days. Clutching what's left of her life in a small canvas bag, Jenny is drawn inside the joint, at once foreign and painfully familiar. She finds herself singing along to the music playing – the soundtrack, strangely enough, of her life. Searching for something, someone, she seduces and rejects the bar denizens in her way. Through the music, Jenny relives the highs and lows of her checkered existence and finally finds a strength she didn't know she had – the strength to face another day."
Audiences embraced the intermissionless 70-minute show as a sort of conceptual revue rather than a conventional character driven musical.
Several Jennys are featured in Weill musicals, including The Threepenny Opera and Lady in the Dark, though the new effort seems to want to expose a timeless persona, a mythic Everywoman.
The new, original, constructed piece (originally scheduled for just 35 performances) features choreography by Neuwirth's Chicago collaborator, Ann Reinking, and is conceived and directed by Roger Rees, Neuwirth's fellow actor from her days on "Cheers."
Leslie Stifelman handled music supervision for this new entertainment, which uses songs from Weill's German cabaret and theatre days, as well as tunes from when he was a Broadway composer (when he preferred his name to be pronounced "while" not "vile").
Rees (Nicholas Nickleby), Reinking (Chicago, Fosse) and Neuwirth (Sweet Charity, Damn Yankees, Chicago) are all Tony Award winners, now experimenting with this new work in relative obscurity below 42nd Street — and late at night.
Here Lies Jenny features the music of Weill (1900-1950) and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, Roger Fernay, Ira Gershwin, Jehuda Halevi, Langston Hughes, Alan Jay Lerner, Maurice Margre, Ogden Nash, Franz Werfel and Kurt Weill.
Designers are Neil Patel (scenic), Kaye Voyce (costume), Frances Aronson (lighting) and Tony Meola (sound).
Arrangements and incidental music are by Jeff Saver, additional arrangement are by Chris Fenwick & Joe Thalken.
Listed in alphabetical order in the Playbill, the songs used in the show are "A Boy Like You," "Army Song," "Barbara's Song," "Belin im Licht-Song," "Bilbao Song," "Children's Game," "Don't Be Afraid," "In meinem Garten," "In Our Childhood's Bright Endeavor," "Je ne t'aime pas," "Marterl," "Oh Heavenly Salvation," "Pimps Ballad," "Saga of Jenny," "Song of Ruth," "Song of the Big Shot," "Stranger Here Myself," "Surabaya Johnny," "Susan's Dream," "The Tale of the Soldier's Wife," "Youkali: Tango Habanera."
Tickets range $35-$60. For tickets, calling Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200 or visit the Zipper Theatre box office.