All's Weill at the Arcola for this musical tribute

Review by Paul Nelson


ONE wonders just how many times the songs of Kurt Weill (pictured above) and his contemporaries can go on being revived. As with the case of Stephen Sondheim, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

During Weill's centenary year, I must have seen at least ten versions, all worthy and all trying hard to be different. There have been several since then.

Now along comes another and this one really is different.

1933 And All That is not merely a tribute to Weill, it also embraces such luminaries as Wedekind, Borciani, Hollaender, Dessau, Eisler, Fernay and the Americans, Ira Gershwin, Alan Jay Lerner and Ogden Nash. These, along with his more familiar collaborator, Bert Brecht, were very instrumental in carving out what was a remarkably productive career. I also possess recordings of two of his symphonies, so we are not discussing a slouch, especially when you recall he died at the ludicrously early age of 50.

The show has been devised and orchestrated by Mario Borciani as a vehicle for his wife Anna Zapparoli. These two are no strangers to taking on controversial subjects. In November of 2000, they presented Molly Bloom at the Jermyn Street Theatre, again as a vehicle for Miss Zapparoli with original music by Borciani. That was an evening to remember, as is the present show.

During this evening of songs we are given yet another collaborator on the music of the times, Borciani has set a Wedekind poem 'The Poor Guy Without One Eye' to music. It's interesting to see that the political parable is still alive and well.

Anna Zapparoli is a hefty performer in many ways. She has ample everything but mainly of interest she has ample talent and that is multi-faceted.

Naturally, she has her limitations. Singing 'The Saga of Jenny' for instance, a song written by Weill and Ira Gershwin for the musical Lady in the Dark, Anna Zapparoli can't quite capture the lewd raunchiness that Gertrude Lawrence used in the repeated refrains, so as a standby she asks the audience to sing the chorus along with her. It's an odd choice. Similarly 'Speak Low' from One Touch of Venus, this time Weill with Ogden Nash as collaborator, is a number not immediately apparently suited to the Zapparoli style.

Another curious choice, one which fits well into the genre the show is encapsulating, is Weill's 'Susan's Dream' from Love Life, a show written with Alan Jay Lerner. It fits in very well with the other songs which are mainly tales of women's hopes and dreams, realised or dashed.

Among these songs are 'Barbarasong' and 'Solomon Song' from The Threepenny Opera and particularly 'Surabaya Johnny' from Happy End by now more well known than ever it was during the early part of the twentieth century. It is in this song and 'Song of Mandalay' that Zapparoli comes into her own and both are perfectly put across.

It is fascinating and long overdue to fill in the void in which Weill found himself after he fled Nazi Germany. He didn't immediately fetch up in America, there was a stop in Paris, and here from The Casino de Paris Revue comes 'Youkali'. Well you are not going to get songs like that everyday and it notches up another big plus as to why this show must be seen.

On hand to set and strike props is a small person, Beniamino Borciani, a useful item to have around. He has a true soprano voice and can create a great lump in the throat in his moments. We'll have to make a note of that name.

The show is playing in the Arcola Theatre, which resembles a small indoor car park. Its cinemascope appearance pushes the artist to the limit, happily on most occasions Zapparoli strides over this with ease.

One last thought, several members of the audience, no doubt well-wishers, whooped and barked after her numbers. That meant that any atmosphere she had created with her art was instantly dissipated and so she had to start again with her next number. When in tears whoopings from the audience do nothing for either performer or listener. 'Poor cow,' muttered somebody behind me, as she had to start her show again for the umpteenth time. I sympathised. The so-called well-wishers almost wrecked the evening which rightly belonged not to the rowdies in the house but to Zapparoli and Borciani.

1933 And All That devised and orchestrated by Mario Borciani from mainly the music of Kurt Weill. Lighting by Benedetta Borciani/Martin Goodman. Mario Borciani, Piano and Musical Director; Carlo Battisti, Drums; Stewart Curtis, Clarinet, Flute, Tenor and Soprano Saxophone; Sandro Dandria, Double Bass. Produced by La Dual Band WITH Anna Zapparoli, Beniamino Borciani. Arcola Theatre, Arcola Street, Dalston, London E8.