Friday, May 04, 2007

Did Critics LoveMusik?

Did Critics LoveMusik?

Last evening, the curtain opened on LoveMusik at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre.

On paper (or on a Web site), it at least looks good, with a musical love story built around Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, direction by Hal Prince, a book by Alfred Uhry, and a stellar cast including Michael Cerveris, Donna Murphy and David Pittu. Did the critics think it all added up to beautiful music, worthy of the award nominations it's already garnered?

Look no further than New York Post's Clive Barnes, who opines in his three-star review: "If, in the remarkable -- no, sensational -- hands of both Donna Murphy as Lenya and Michael Cerveris as Weill, the music comes off more convincingly than the love, that was ultimately the story of their lives....The book is frankly clunky. But time and time again it is luckily resuscitated by the music and the altogether remarkable performances from the whole cast under Harold Prince's inspired direction."

Calling it a "daring new musical," Newday's Linda Winer is mostly positive: "The show has its problems, some inherent in the range of Weill's music, and a few that seem to be almost willfully wrong-headed choices by director Harold Prince and author Alfred Uhry. But its strengths -- especially the courageous, ruggedly brilliant performances by Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy -- are far more haunting than the flaws are troubling."

The first review posted before last night's performance even began came from Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press, who in calling the production "uneven yet fascinating" goes on to say: "[T]he production -- much of it based on letters between Weill and Lenya -- still feels unfinished and uncertain....Cerveris and Murphy dominate. Both have undergone startling physical transformations and both are flawless in their Teutonic accents -- which does make the English lyrics a little more difficult to understand....Prince presents the show as if it were a revue, a series of sketches depicting the lives of these unique people. There is a mock proscenium within the real proscenium of the Biltmore to underscore the artificiality of the storytelling."

Offering a surprising assessment that LoveMusik "is sluggish, tedious and (hold your breath) unmissable," The New York Times' Ben Brantley notes: "Donna Murphy and Michael Cerveris turn in stunningly shaded performances that hold their own in a season notable for its surprisingly high standard of celebrity character studies....How you wish, though, that they weren’t trapped in the struggle between Alfred Uhry’s conventionally sentimental book and Mr. Prince’s self-consciously jaded staging."

Calling it "ambitious but schizophrenic," Eric Grode of The New York Sun laments: "LoveMusik comes tantalizingly close to explaining how the son of a cantor and a former child prostitute formed one of the 20th century's most curious romances. Ironically, though, the project is foiled by the very thing that made it so tempting in the first place -- Weill's own versatility....This embarrassment of lyrical riches stymies Messrs. Prince and Uhry, who are left with a stylistic smorgasbord that continuously wriggles free of any unified tone and leaves the complexities of the Weill-Lenya relationship unexplored."

All these reviews would seem to suggest that the nominations the show has already received were deserved. Whether or not audiences will gravitate toward this unusual musical remains to be seen.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.

Related Stories:
LoveMusik? Check Out MTC's Opening Night (May 3, 2007)
Pittu's Hit Parade Leads To LoveMusik (March 7, 2007)
LoveMusik To Play On Broadway This Spring (November 18, 2006)
Driving Alfred Uhry (November 6, 2006)

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At 04 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther said:

While I didn't absolutely love LoveMusik, I did like it a great deal.

I went into it with fairly high expectations. I'd heard so much about Michael Cerveris and Donna Murphy. And I love Michael Cerveris on the cast recording of Assassins. I was excited by the involvement of Alfred Uhry. Even though LoveMusik doesn't deal as directly with Jewish themes as some of his other works, I was looking forward to seeing Uhry's take on this German-Jewish composer who fled the Nazis. And my gosh, Hal Prince, is there a bigger Broadway legend? Even people who don't know much about Broadway have heard of Hal Prince!

I thought that Cerveris, Murphy and David Pittu were great. They brought these characters to life in a very believable manner. I especially liked the early scenes showing how Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya met, how these two people from wildly different backgrounds came together as a couple. Lenya was this very outgoing, streetwise woman, and Weill was the quiet, reserved, staid artist. And just thinking about David Pittu's Brecht makes me smile. He portrayed him as kind of a scruffy rogue, with a surprisingly capitalist bent for such a dedicated socialist! Weill and Brecht do a song-and-dance number about the rise of the Nazis that is just inspired.

Yet, I felt that in the end, the characters were better than the story they were in. They were more compelling and memorable as individuals than the plot was as a whole. And the second act, after they arrived in America, wasn't as interesting as the first. Somehow, I felt that there should have been more drama. I did get a sense of what Weill and Lenya meant to each other, especially at the end, with Weill's too-early death, and Lenya ensuring that his music would live on.

I think the greatest revelation was just hearing Kurt Weill's music. The only song of his that I was familiar with was Mack the Knife. Hearing David Pittu sing Die Moritat, the song that would become Mack the Knife, was riveting. In fact, I loved hearing Murphy and Cerveris sing so many great Kurt Weill songs.

For all of its faults, the one thing I would never call LoveMusik is sluggish and tedious, as Ben Brantley did. You know, I've sat through many, many sluggish and tedious movies. Believe me, I know tedious. Maybe it's because for me, the experience of going to a Broadway show is still so new, but I was still pretty enthralled. I'm sure there will come a day when I'll find a show sluggish and tedious, but I don't think I'm there yet!

At 04 May, 2007, Anonymous Chris Caggiano said...

I'm going to need to respectfully disagree with Esther here, and (I can't believe I'm saying this) agree with Ben Brantley. I found LoveMusik both sluggish and tedious. See my blog for a full review. I will concede that most of the critics liked it more than I did, if only marginally so, but for me LoveMusik was the biggest disappointment of the season.

At 04 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, As always, I appreciate your comments and believe that my readers should visit your site to see what you've said. (For an even more scathing review, check out The Playgoer, who shares the review of a professor of his from CUNY, David Savran.)

My one question back to you, Chris, is whether you agreed with Brantley that despite LoveMusik's shortcomings, it is "unmissable"? That would seem a stretch from your review.

Look forward to hearing more!

At 04 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Esther for sharing your perspective on the show. Always great to hear from someone whom no one could ever accuse of being jaded.

At 04 May, 2007, Anonymous Chris Caggiano said...

Well, the only things worth seeing are Cerveris and Donna Murphy. Incredibly talented performers at the height of their powers. Would that they had a vehicle worthy of their abilities. Unmissable? For me, yes. For any serious student of the musical theater, yes. For everyone else? Debatable.

At 04 May, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

Oh, I can be jaded about some things, just not Broadway! Not yet, anyway. In fact, I'm so unjaded that I got excited when I learned that I was in the same theater where the original Broadway production of Hair was staged!

I did read the articles that you linked to, and they do raise points that I hadn't thought about. I agree with the CUNY professor that it would have been interesting to get more of a sense of Weill's and Brecht's politics.

I guess I did expect a little more from Alfred Uhry along those lines, more of a sense of the historical events that were swirling around Weill, Lenya and Brecht. But I guess that would have been a different show. This one was based on Weill's and Lenya's letters, and is clearly supposed to be about their relationship.

Yeah, I wish the plot had been more developed, more dramatic. I wish there'd been more history and politics. But I enjoyed the performances. I didn't get to see Michael Cerveris in Sweeney Todd or Assassins, and I really wanted to see him in something. I'm glad I did. I wanted to learn more about Kurt Weill's music, and I did. So, while I do understand what everyone is saying about the show's faults, there was still enough in it to make it enjoyable for me.

At 06 May, 2007, Blogger SarahB said...

Oh I agree with Chris Caggiano. What a complete disappointment this show is. My expectations were so high, but Donna Murphy was the only good thing about the show and she wasn't even given enough good material to save the show for me.

At 06 May, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Chris, Thanks again for sharing. Knowing what a student (and well as teacher) of the theatre you are, I can appreciate why it would be unmissable for you, but also why you wouldn't necessarily say it is for others.

Esther and Sarah, I really do appreciate your individual perspectives based on your experiences. Given all the talent amassed for this show -- as well as your specific comments pro and con -- I can understand why so many critics have offered stunningly mixed reviews.


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