A tantalizing Bebe Neuwirth
Here Lies Jenny received mixed reviews in New York but Bebe Neuwirth's name brought the audience down to 37th Street's funky Zipper Theatre, where automobile seats are used for the patrons. The mini-musical started at 11 pm. The offbeat theatre was perfect for this odd entertainment. The New York Times called the production “a nightcap of a musical diversion.” This marks the first production outside of Manhattan.
Bebe Neuwirth shined as Lola in the revival of Damn Yankees, and her dance movements and sexiness in Chicago and Fosse were superb. This made her one of the best Broadway dancers of the later 20th century. She still looks fine, with her gaunt, alabaster face and penetrating eyes. One would think Neuwirth a natural for the German expressionistic composure. She made a good “pirate Jenny” when she appeared in the ACT production of Threepenny Opera several years ago.
Roger Rees, who conceived and directed this production, chose some songs that just don’t mach her metallic vibrato. The arrangement of songs makes thowaways of the wonderful, sophisticated and comedic “The Saga of Jenny” from Lady in the Dark and the lovely “I’m A Stranger Here Myself” from One Touch of Venus, both placed in the middle of the production. There is only a smidgen of Ann Reinking choreographed dancing, which is very unfortunate. One of the high spots is Neuwirth's sensuous dance with Dennis Stowe and Angelo Fraboni to "Tango Habanera."
Kurt Weill has always been one of my favorite composers. His early work with Bertolt Brecht requires a guttural, German-type singer such as Lotte Lenya or Ute Lemper, and his later Broadway songs need a sophisticated voice like Mary Martin or Gertrude Lawrence. Unfortunately, Bebe does not have either type of voice. And, on the whole, it does not work. After an hour you become tired of her vocal limitations since her voice becomes strident.
However, this does not mean that all of the songs sung by Ms. Neuwirth are off the mark. She does a superb arrangement of “Barbara Song,” “Surabaya Johnny” and “Pimp's Ballad.” These are vibrantly sung, and she has great musical dexterity in these melodies and lyrics.
Dancers and singers Angelo Fraboni and Dennis Stowe have great voices and dance moves. They look and act like some of the patrons who would frequent this detailed tacky bar setting on the wrong side of town. Martin Vidnovic, as the owner of the bar, is excellent, powerfully showing that he knows how to sing the early Germanic melodies of the Brecht/Weill operas. His rendition of “Berlin im Licht-Song” is commanding.
Neil Patel's set design is basically the same as the Zipper Theatre production. It’s a seedy basement bar that looks like it is in sepia tones, with rusted walls and a beat-up bar. A piano played by Diane Hidy dressed in male drag is at stage left. She knows how to pound the keyboards. However, she seems uncomfortable on the stage dressed in her men’s outfit.
Here Lies Jenny is set to close on May 23rd at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post Street, San Francisco (1/2 block west of Union Square). Tickets range from $35 - $55 and are available at the box office phone number 415-771-6900 or on the web at www.ticketmaster.com.