Theater Around The Bay: The Kurt Weill Project

Happy Friday the Thirteenth Everyone!

Today seemed like a good day (a lucky day!) for us to launch our new project- which is essentially a digital form of the Pub where we give you another look into the diverse and exciting theater scene that defines the Bay Area performance community. Like all Pub projects, this is an experiment and we’ll see how it goes, but the goal is to create an online stomping ground for the small theater scene, eventually bringing you a blog a day, profiling a group here, an actor there, a project or perspective to generate a collage of what’s going on, who is doing it, and what it’s like to make this theater scene happen. Think of it as a lifestyle mag for the black box, storefront, rear-bar crew- which can include you! Have a story to tell? Let us know. We’ll be constantly on the lookout for new material and just like the live portion of Theater Pub, the best way to get involved is to drop us a line and tell us what you want to do.

In the meantime, check-out this profile of The Kurt Weill Project, brought to you by Theater Pub veteran (and Kurt Weill diva) Michelle Jasso. 

The Kurt Weill Project, clockwise: Zoltan DiBartolo, Allison Lovejoy, Harriet March Page, Martha Cooper, Alexis Lane Jensen, Nathan Tucker, Michelle Jasso, Sibel Demirmen.

German-Jewish composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950), son of a cantor, was working as a theatre accompanist by the age of 15.  Eventually reigning as the leading composer for the German stage, Weill enjoyed many fantastic collaborations.  Two of note were Bertolt Brecht, with whom he composed his most (in)famous Threepenny Opera, a “biblical parable” actually serving as a Marxist-inspired critique of Capitalist values, and famed diseuse Lotte Lenya, who would become Weill’s wife and a champion of his compositions.  Shanghaied into childhood prostitution in Imperial Vienna, Lenya had many a story about the complicated lives and hearts of “Ladies of the Night,” and Weill wrote stacks of songs for her based upon her experience.  The couple split and separately fled Nazi Germany, only to re-meet and reunite in the US.  Shortly thereafter, the couple attended the final dress rehearsal of George Gershwin’s masterpiece Porgy and Bess.  After the curtain descended, Weill allegedly turned to Lenya and said “So jazz-influenced American opera does exist — and I’m going to write it.”  His next project was Street Scene, a massive, complex, beautiful piece of heartbreaking theatre for which Weill won the inaugural Tony Award for Best Original Score.  Sixty years after his death, the music of Kurt Weill continues to be performed regularly in classical, jazz, cabaret and even pop and rock settings.  Songs of Weill have been covered by artists like Nina Simone, David Bowie, The Doors and Tom Waits, to name a (very) few.

The true genesis of The Kurt Weill Project (KWP) would be in the San Francisco Concert Chorale, which Harriet March Page, now Artistic Director of Goat Hall Productions, joined in 1987.  In SFCC’s annual variety show in 1988, Page and Miriam Lewis (now a sought-after SF theatre costume designer) performed a rendition of the “Jealousy Duet” from Threepneny in which they ended up on the floor entangled in the curtains at the SF Community Music Center.  All the Kurt Weill-loving singers soon stepped up and, later that year, had their first Weill performance as Salvation Army-Turned-Whore at Hotel Utah, and later in 1988 performed a concept piece written by Page called The Sea Is Blue at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, a fully staged production with chamber orchestra.  Weill later fell by the wayside as the group evolved into Goat Hall Productions and began producing full seasons of opera, but Weill has never left Page’s heart.  Approximately a year ago Page decided to resurrect the KWP, stating simply “I want to sing this music until I die.”  A small handful of us got to work, reading through the mountain of Weill’s opus; the ensuing months brought about vicissitudes of personnel and therefore creative direction, but the goal has remained steadfast: to learn and perform as much of Weill’s rich repertory as humanly possible.   

This new incarnation of KWP had its debut performance as part of StageWerx’s Underground Sound series in July 2011, and has been going strong ever since.  Essentially a cabaret group, there’s always a theme: Moon Floating on Water; Songs of Ships and the Sea; Berlin, Broadway and Beyond, etc.  We’ve done something special for the month of April and are showcasing the work of KWP member and local pianist/composer/treasure Allison Lovejoy.  A second performance of this program of her original cabaret tunes will happen at The Red Poppy Art House in the Mission on Saturday, April 14th at 8pm.  The KWP appears every 2nd Monday at StageWerx (also in the Mission), and our next theme is Brecht!  

More about all this, as well as Goat Hall’s full season may be found here: http://goathall.org/

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