Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill, City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds, Friday, June 15, 2018

OPERA North have teamed up with the West Yorkshire Playhouse for this journey through the musical theatre output of the great Kurt Weill. Weill’s Berlin years during the 1920s and early ‘30s, and his Broadway career are showcased in Giles Havergal’s lucid direction of over twenty songs from ten different shows.

The City Varieties’ stage is decorated with glittery black slashes and festooned with soft ‘outdoor’ lights. A terrific all-singing and dancing ensemble cast comprises eleven members of the remarkably versatile Opera North Chorus whose choreographed movements fully exploit the extended apron stage. The ladies and gents in their elegant black 1920s evening wear look as though they thoroughly inhabit this glamorous, decadent and dangerously unstable era.

Weill’s astringent harmonies and Berthold Brecht’s acerbic lyrics in the Threepenny Opera, the Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and Happy End to some degree reflect the underlying social tensions. Pimp’s Tango from The Threepenny Opera - a seductive duet from Amy Freston and Dean Robinson - and Amy J Payne’s searing performance of Surabaya Johnny, from Happy End, are cases in point.

By the start of the second half, Weill has settled in New York; the lighter atmosphere is signalled by the replacement of the mens’ sombre homburgs with straw boaters for Ice Cream - an ensemble number bursting with exuberance from the 1947 show Street Scene. Other highlights to die for in this half included Amy Freston’s delicious Saga for Jenny, and Kathryn Walker’s emotional My Ship; both songs are from Lady in the Dark. A beguiling evening ended with a reprise of The Ballad of Mack the Knife, from The Threepenny Opera. This was sung by Stuart Laing and the entire ensemble underpinned, as was the entire programme, by the sensitive musical direction and piano accompaniment of Martin Pickard.

Geoffrey Mogridge