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The Musical Theater Project presents “Deconstructing Kurt Weill”

Roy Berko

(Member:  Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

The wording on the gravestone of Kurt Weill comes from the song “A Bird of Passage” from his musical, “Lost in the Stars.”  It reads:  “This is the life of men on earth:  Out of darkness we come at birth.  Into a lamplit room, and then—Go forward into dark again.”

Weill’s life epitomizes that Maxwell Anderson poem.  Born into a secure Jewish-  German family in 1900, he grew to be one of the country’s more prominent and popular composers.  He, along with his equally well-know wife, singer Lotte Lenya, were forced into exile by the Nazis in 1933 because, not only were they Jewish, but held and espoused populist views.

He emerged from the dark when he arrived in America, and assumed his place in American composing nobility by producing many well known works.

He felt so strongly about his expulsion from Deutschland, that he and wife, Lottie Lenya, decided not to speak German again, except in letters and conversations with his parents who had escaped to Palestine (now Israel).  They also Americanized the pronunciation of their name, using the “W,” rather than the Germanic “V” sound at the start of their last name.

His “American” compositions were a departure from his former work.  He wrote with an immediacy theme.  As he said, “I am writing for the masses.  Music they can sing, and music that deals with their problems.  That is the only significant form of composition nowadays.”

His massive music portfolio included stage and film works, cantatas, chamber music, piano music, orchestral works, and Lieder cycles/songs/chansons.  He is probably best known by the general public for “Mack the Knife,” from his “The Threepenny Opera,” which became a jazz standard via the Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin recording.

The Musical Theater Project will present “Deconstructing Kurt Weill: The American Songs,” featuring narration by TMTP Executive Director Heather Meeker , input from Cleveland composer-arranger, Ty Alan Emerson, as sung by Fabio Polanco and Christine Fader, with music by guitarist Jake Fader and the instrumental trio “No Exit.”

The concert centers on the theme, “How might Weill’s music sound if it were arranged and performed by contemporary artists?”   Emerson’s concept in arranging the music centered on his belief that “Weill became jaded by the Old World and wonderfully excited about becoming an American artist.  Where ever you turn in the songs, that colors his musical and dramatic choices.”

“This composer embraced whatever sound he heard swirling around him—and in New York in the 1930s and 40s, those sounds included jazz, swing, the blues and pure Broadway ballads.”

Emerson also notes, in regard to Weill’s work, “I found that whether you’re a musical theater fan, opera or jazz musician, glam-rocker or indie-punk all-star, you can make Weill your own.”

Audiences will get their chance to experience Emerson’s interpretations of Weill on May 2 and 3 at 7 PM in the James Levine Theatre of Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or visit