Cabaret Review By Myra Chanin
I recently watched a PBS show called Broadway Musicals, A Jewish Legacy, which featured a seemingly endless list of topnotch famous Jewish composers – Arlen, Berlin, Bernstein, Bock, Brooks, Gershwin, Herman, Kander, Kern, Lerner, Loesser, Rodgers, Shire, Schwartz, Shaiman, Sondheim, Strouse, Styne, Weill, Yeston – not necessarily the names they received during circumcision. These talented creative people transformed the Broadway Musical into THE Jewel in the American Cultural Crown. Gentiles? There was one gentile, Cole Porter, but after three flops in a row, he told Richard Rodgers, he’d decided to start writing Jewish music, and the rest is history.
Which one of the above impresses me most? Kurt Weill, one of the leading composers of his generation, a classically trained musician who’d composed an opera by age 25. He was wise enough to flee Germany on the day that Hitler became Chancellor. He was also known for his harsh discords amid his erotic and lush melodies and admired for his lifelong practice of collaborating with the most talented lyricists.
In Germany, Berthold Brecht supplied the words for Weill’s masterpiece, Threepenny Opera. In the US, Weill teamed with 8-times-married Alan Jay Lerner, the obviously right authority to supply the verses for Love Life. Playwright Maxwell Anderson was his partner for Knickerbocker Holiday and Lost in the Stars. Ira Gershwin wrote the rhymes for Weill’s Lady in the Dark, and the poet Langston Hughes provided the poetry to Weill’s Broadway Opera, Street Scene.
Sally Darling, tall, slender, angular, elegant and understated, has always reminded me of Lotte Lenya, Weill’s on-again, off-again wife and original Pirate Jenny. Sally Darling’s voice and delivery are as versatile as Lenya’s. She can purr and end the purr with an edge. When I learned Sally was doing a show about Weill and his love-children Kander and Ebb at Don’t Tell Mama, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away. Her first appearance was scheduled for Sunday August 11th at 5 pm, which did not seem to me to be a propitious hour. I was wrong to worry. By 4:45, Don’t Tell Mama’s Brick Room was filled with Sally’s longtime fans.
Sally’s background in theater is rich and varied: actress, director, coach, narrator, cabaret performer. She has staged operas, narrated with symphony orchestras, and directed everything from Thurber to Shakespeare. She’s played Anna in The King and I, performed with Barry Manilow, David Carradine and Hal Linden, has narrated over 250 fiction and non-fiction books on tape, has won awards for her compelling voice and her unmatched interpretive skills. And during the past two years, she’s become a regular member of Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway’s More Than Ready for Prime-Time Players.
Sally started appearing in cabarets in 2005. Since then she has created 11 completely new shows – 7 of them (and still counting) with her current musical director and co-vocalist Matthew Martin Ward, with whom she demonstrates strong and intimate rapport.
Matthew Martin Ward opened the show by paying homage to a great John Kander vamp – no one writes them better — before sashaying with Sally through a seductive medley of Weill/Kander & Ebb couplets and quatrains. A few bars of Weill’s “Pirate Jenny” blend into the cruelty of “Surabaya Johnny” and surround the early Kander and Ebb “Colored Lights” from Flora the Red Menace. Next, Weill’s plaintive “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” with sad memories of displacement by Ogden Nash, conclude with a Weill double-header, “Mac The Knife,” and “Poor Jenny.” from Lady in the Dark. The medley displays what Kurt Weill/John Kander and Fred Ebb have in common as songwriters: high drama, driving rhythms and lush ballads.
Among the many other highlights was Matthew Martin Ward singing “September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday, Kurt Weill’s first big hit in the US, about the passing of time. Next came a mélange of Kander and Ebb’s edgy “I Don’t Care Much, ”My Own Best Friend,” “Isn’t this Better,” “I Don’t Remember You” before Darling’s seductive delivery of Weill’s sexy “Speak Low” followed by K&E’s “What Would You Do?” originally sung by Lotte Lenya in K&E’s Cabaret which displays a down-to-earth reaction to getting old, reminiscent of September Song.
Sally ended the show with the powerful ”Lost in the Stars,” the title song of Weill’s last show, based on Alan Paton novel Cry, The Beloved Country, which takes place in South Africa.
The music, the lyrics, Matthew Martin Ward and especially Sally Darling made this one performance not to be missed.
Sally Darling and Matthew Martin Ward will be back with Weill, Kander and Ebb at Don’t Tell Mama at 343 W. 46th St. on Friday Night August 16th and Thursday Night September 12.