Performers ready to visit Weill and Brecht: The Berlin Years

Performer Bradley Greenwald is on somewhat of a Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht kick. Earlier this spring, he starred in Frank Theatre's production of The Threepenny Opera. This week, he'll be on the Open Eye Figure Theatre stage for Weill and Brecht: The Berlin Years. Then, later this month, he will be in the cast of From Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill for Skylark Opera (also directed by Frank's Wendy Knox).

Right now, Greenwald and the rest of the singers and musicians at Open Eye -- Diana Grasselli, Prudence Johnson, and pianist Dan Chouinard -- are looking forward to this week's piece, which focuses on the work the pair did together in the late 1920s.

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"The song texts are eerily prescient of the current political climate; or perhaps the climate has just not changed in 80 years. And the music, compared to some of Weill's contemporaries, has not dated itself or worn out its style over time. It's rich and complicated enough to resist moldiness," Greenwald says.

The idea began to brew last fall. "We put together a program of Weill/Brecht music for the St. Paul Public Library. We liked it, and wanted to do it again as a concert," Greenwald says.

For the performers, dipping into the musical and lyrical world of these prime, 20th-century composers is always a thrill, but one where they do need to tread carefully to get the best results.

"The Brecht-Weill song is a maddening elixir of two ingredients that you'd think would cancel each other out: lyrics that are insolent and sometimes crass, and music that's jazzy, or even noble and exquisite," Greenwald says. " And it's important to make sure the melody doesn't hypnotize the ear too completely. That's hard, since the music is gorgeous, so that the lyric is not listened to. That's a hard job."

Lyrically, the songs will be sung mainly in English. "Translations are always problematic, because they have to drift from the original meaning in order to satisfy meter and rhyme. And that's been a problem for centuries. We do an occasional verse in German," Greenwald says.

Even so, Brecht occasionally dipped into our country's tongue. "Some of the lyrics they originally wrote in a funny English, with exotic places like Alabama, Bilbao, and Surabaya, and everyone named Johnny or Jenny," Greenwald adds.

All of this should make for a fun evening for music- and theater-lovers alike. "This program could have been eight-hours long, because the repertoire is just a goldmine of beauty and snark and shock and elegance. But we're keeping it to about 75 minutes. Every song is a gem," Greenwald says.


Weill and Brecht: The Berlin Years
7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
Open Eye Figure Theatre

506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis

For tickets and more information, call 612.874.6338 or visit online.