ON THE RECORD: Andrea Marcovicci's "Kurt Weill in America," and The Coast of Utopia

On the Record   ON THE RECORD: Andrea Marcovicci's "Kurt Weill in America," and The Coast of Utopia This week's column discusses "Kurt Weill in America," Andrea Marcovicci's 2005 entry in the Lyrics & Lyricists series, and the new CD featuring Mark Bennett's original music for Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia.
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KURT WEILL IN AMERICA [Andreasong AND-07]
LoveMusik, Hal Prince and Alfred Uhry's examination of the conflicted yet enduring partnership of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, has come and gone. The intimate musical at the Biltmore was found to be fascinatingly provocative or flat-out pretentious, take your pick; opinions were wildly mixed, but in the end it simply did not attract enough customers to warrant the hoped-for extension and transfer. If there were qualms about the dramaturgy, the musik part was wonderful. Jonathan Tunick seemingly took his cue from the small pit orchestras of Weill's Berlin period; while half the show took place in (and half the songs came from) America, Weill and Lenya remained Germanic, with heavy accents. Thus, we got all those songs — even Weill's Broadway show tunes — in the astringent sound of the composer's early years. Tunick did a smashing job, with his ten-person band led by Nick Archer; the show sounded absolutely marvelous, especially with Donna Murphy, Michael Cerveris and the others. The making of a LoveMusik cast album seems to be less than a sure thing at present; the lack of one would be a particularly unfortunate outcome.

In the meanwhile, listeners can direct their attention to Andrea Marcovicci's "Kurt Weill in America," which has just been released on Marcovicci's own Andreasong label. This studio recording was based on a November 2005 concert in the 92nd Street Y's Lyrics & Lyricists series. Marcovicci, who served as guest artistic director for the affair, was joined by six singers in a program of two-dozen songs from Weill's 15 years on our shores. The resulting CD makes a straightforward anthology album, taking us in roughly chronological order through the composer's nine Broadway musicals.

Musical director/pianist Shelly Markham and his three-piece combo provide a cabaret-like accompaniment; cabaret as in the Oak Room at the Algonquin, not the Wilkommen/Sally Bowles variety. The effect is distinctly unWeill-like (although some of the renditions follow his original piano arrangements). If Tunick's LoveMusik gave us the authentic German sound of Weill, "Kurt Weill in America" does the opposite. But we very quickly become accustomed to Markham's handling. Here we have an hour of Weill played by piano, bass, drums, and one reed; the results are — as Liza Elliott might say — perfectly lovely.

Ms. Marcovicci could very well sing the whole thing herself, of course; she has been on the cabaret scene for 30 years now, and her voice remains a remarkable instrument. (Theatregoers might remember back to 1972, when she was absolutely radiant in the somewhat foggy Ambassador. Her Broadway career was cut short five years later when Nefertiti, which was to make her a star, crashed in Chicago.) Marcovicci has in this case wisely stepped back and spread the songs around to an ensemble consisting of Anna Bergman, Barbara Brussell, Mark Coffin, Chuck Cooper, Jeff Harnar and Maude Maggart. They are all, each of them, very good. Everybody gets their solos, and they make the most of them. With repeated listenings, certain tracks have begun to stand out: "Johnny's Song" (Harnar), "Buddy on the Nightshift" (Maggart), "What Good Would the Moon Be? (Bergman), "Lonely House" (Coffin), "Here I'll Stay" (Brussell), "The River Is So Blue" (Maggart), "West Wind" (Harnar), "It Never Was You" (Marcovicci), "Thousands of Miles" (Cooper), "Foolish Heart" (Bergman), "Speak Low" (Brussell), "My Ship" (Maggart) and "September Song" (Coffin). There is plenty here that is worthwhile, and worth Weill.

All told, "Kurt Weill in America" makes a fine sampler of the latter half of the Weill songbook. (I'm especially glad that they've included the astringently pessimistic "Nowhere to Go but Up" from Knickerbocker Holiday, which we hear all too infrequently.) The style is worlds away from the more authentic-sounding LoveMusik, but Marcovicci and company give you plenty of provocative Weill.

THE COAST OF UTOPIA [Ghostlight 8-4422]
The dizzyingly-supreme heights of grandeur of Lincoln Center Theater's recent The Coast of Utopia are recaptured on the new CD of Mark Bennett's incidental music score. To call this incidental is inapt; the music, in Jack O'Brien's New York production of Tom Stoppard's monumental trilogy, was as integral to the whole as the sets and lighting and performances.

Stoppard and O'Brien, both, offer Bennett encomiums of praise in the liner notes, and they are well deserved. The rewards of listening to The Coast of Utopia will perhaps be greater for fans of motion picture soundtracks than standard Broadway cast albums; there are no songs here, after all. (Well, not quite; Felicity LaFortune sings "La Marseilles," and joins David Pittu for three Italian arias. This being the same Pittu who departed Utopia and environs to essay the role of Brecht in the as-yet-unrecorded LoveMusik.) But people who like to listen to show tunes, and only show tunes, are advised that there are none here.

The most famous incidental music from plays, perhaps, are the scores by Felix Mendelssohn for A Midsummer's Night Dream and Edvard Grieg for Peer Gynt. (Shakespeare, Ibsen, Stoppard. . . . interesting combination.) In both earlier cases, the numerous music cues were far more accessible once joined into suites. That might well be the case with The Coast of Utopia as well; listening to 38 tracks — many less than a minute long — makes for a somewhat disjointed experience. Even so, Mark Bennett's original music for The Coast of Utopia is quite as engrossing as the whole eight-and-a-half hour clambake. Or, rather, blinibake.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com)

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