This week marks the occasion of the prolific Ms. Marcovicci's revamping her Kurt Weill cabaret show for Philadelphia, which was originally commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Weill Centenary. She titled it Kurt Weill in America, for reasons she explained immediately that she thought many singers could sing the German songs better than she, and she has a particular "aversion to Bertolt Brecht and his lyrics" that seem arguably misogynistic and even cruel to women.
The auditorium was pleasantly well-packed the opening night, Sept. 12th, with an audience that seemed appreciative throughout the 90-minute performance. Andrea Marcovicci has a self-assuredness that gets her through just about anything, despite the expected lapses in vocal technique, her selection of material, interstitial commentary, or even good taste, but she generally knows how to rock the house with her interpretation of some well-known Weill numbers, and a few obscure ones thrown in. Her commentary ran to a sort of Weill-biography with wildly inaccurate comments positioned cheek by jowl next to a simple chronology (a leader in the Kurt Weill Foundation sat in front of me and I thought he would jump up any minute and begin arguing with her).
She sang a few numbers from the Weill/Lerner Love Life that greatly pointed out how we need to see this show again, as it has some terrific music in it.
After an introduction of "What Good Would the Moon Be?" from "Street Scene," she announced she would sing the 'most obscure' piece she could find, and sang the piece from "You and Me", the 1938 film with Sylvia Sidney and George Raft, with the caveat that the 'lyricist was trying to imitate Brecht. And trying very hard.' She proceeded to sing it with an intonation that effectively ridiculed the song, thereby giving it no chance on its own, setting an odd tone. Marcovicci explained that she was trying to find upbeat songs from Weill's work, and broadly hinted that this was not an easy thing to do, as 'no matter how hard you try, we'll be in the toilet before long' - and 'anyone who does a Weill cabaret knows you need to bring sleeping bags' - both very strange comments from someone ostensibly trying to promote the composer's works.
She ran through all the Mary Martin numbers from One Touch of Venus, and did it quite well, including using the alternate lyrics from the film of the play for "Foolish Heart" - which is a brilliant idea, despite the obvious inferior lyrics to the Ogden Nash originals, but where else would you hear it beside in the film?
Her voice is often perfect for the songs, but her range is limited (one is reminded of Lenya now and then). When she builds to a climax that includes a high note, she is often flat and unpleasant which I think spoiled many of the numbers. She again brilliantly programmed "The River is So Blue", an unused song from the film "The River is Blue" (although she said the title was "so Blue") which has a luminous ending, building up to a high, high note, and in one breath descending to a low finish that she nearly died trying to sing, or at least I nearly died listening to her attempt that approached that of an admittedly beautiful hound baying at dusk.
When she's good, though, she's very good. Her rendition of "Is it Him or Is It Me?" from Love Life was about the best I've heard: enormously sad, taking every opportunity to use the melody to its most poignant, and ending in such despair that the whole audience was deeply moved by it.
A very nice arrangement of a two-song medley, "Mon Ami, My Friend" from Johnny Johnson with "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday was a treat. Her bizarre choice to turn the French number into a Klezmer dance was somewhat shocking, but again, where else would a singer make such a choice?
She announced that she would be appearing in the Prince's production of Lady in the Dark next year (and would be please contribute to the theatre so she could have some lovely costumes for it?) - and sang "My Ship" and "Jenny" in a manner that dissuaded me from coming back to see the whole productionalthough with good direction she might pull it off.
She ended the evening with the song from the unfinished Huckleberry Finn, "This time Next Year," again with the odd comment that 'if you listen carefully you can almost hear him writing as well as Richard Rodgers' .. ! - I do happen to like Richard Rodgers, but that is like saying Ravel in his G major concerto was getting to be as good as George Gershwin! Really, someone needs to take Ms. Marcovicci aside and explain to her the context of what she appears to be talking about with such authority.
Her encores were equally peculiar, ending the evening with "Johnny's Song" from Johnny Johnson - a nice enough song, but weak, I think, from the enormous wealth of what she had to pick from.
I am often disappointed at performances of Weill's music, only because I feel the performer doesn't understand the depth to which he wrote his music. And while I feel that Andrea Marcovicci does understand this, she is such a loose cannon of the musical world that it seems to be a hit or miss whether the composer's intentions coincide with her interpretation.
©2001 John C. Mucci. All rights reserved.