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Expressionist vaudeville meets the musical, via Weill-Lenya letters

What becomes a composer with a conflicted legacy most? An equally dichotomous piece of musical theater. Make no mistake about it: LoveMusik, the new show that's "suggested by" the letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, is one of the sharpest productions, both visually and intellectually, to open on Broadway this season. But it's also one of the most difficult to categorize. It's not historically rigorous enough to be a musical biography of the composer and singer, nor is this sampling of Weill's music a simple jukebox musical. As it contains visual references to everything from early-20th-century German drama to Guys and Dolls to director Harold Prince's own Cabaret and Evita, LoveMusik can, at times, feel like a sampled collage of musical theater history, even as Alfred Uhry's book charts, though not thoroughly, Weill and Lenya's careers and tumultuous relationship (marriage, a divorce, a remarriage, and numerous affairs).

Curiously and excitingly, LoveMusik can resemble both expressionistic vaudeville and traditional musical theater. Weill (Michael Cerveris) and Bertolt Brecht (David Pittu) perform a little-known song from 1942, "Schickelgruber," as a shadow-puppet show comically chronicles Hitler's rise. Lenya (Donna Murphy) delivers "Surabaya Johnny" (from Happy End) as part of her American nightclub debut, fitting it into the piece seamlessly. Throughout, Cerveris, Murphy, and Pittu faithfully re-create their real-life characters' vocalizations, impeccably supported by Jonathan Tunick's lush orchestrations of the songs—which are sometimes beguilingly popular, other times so densely complex they border on the classical. With its similar duality, bearing both an aura of popular entertainment and "high" art, LoveMusik makes for an invigorating, if not always successful experiment in theatrical fusion.

 
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