Symphony Space celebrates 70th anniversary of Kurt Weill’s One Touch of Venus in spectacular style

kwThere was a lot to celebrate at Symphony Space in Manhattan on Monday night.

First, it was the reason everybody was there: a musical tribute to Kurt Weill’s longest-running Broadway show, One Touch of Venus, with an amazing orchestra and a fabulous array of singers.

First, it was the 70th anniversary of the snappy show — down to the day!

Second, it turned out to be the eve of the release of the decade-delayed Jay Records cast recording of the full show, which features quite a few of the singers from the Symphony Space performance — including a transcendent Melissa Errico (who noted “I’m wearing same dress I word 20 years ago … after three kids,” referring to her star turn in the lead role of the 1996 Encores! revival),  the always- welcome Ron Raines, and the smooth-voiced Brent Barrett. (It’s available now on iTunes, with a CD release to follow at an unspecified date.)

Third, the chief dancer from the original production, Sono Osato— whose work we got to see in a wonderful collage of moving and still images at the top of the show — was in the audience and took the spotlight for a hearty round of applause.The show, hosted by Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization President Ted Chapin in a familar Lyrics & Lyricists format, focused solely on Venus in its first half, and expanded its view to Weill’s Broadway oeuvre in the second half.

All of Venus’s hits were there: the title song, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” and “Speak Low,” along with eight other tunes.

The ever-enlightening Chapin explained that the line “Speak low, when you speak love” is a slightly erroneous quote from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, where the line is “Speak low if you speak love.” Chapin explained that Weill apparently used the German word for “if,” which is “wenn,” when recidimg the line to lyricist Ogden Nash, who mistook it for the English “when.”

One of the highlights of the first half was the less well-known ensemble number, “Way Out West in Jersey,” that was wonderful, with a trio of Lotte Lenya Competition winners, Maren Weinberger, Analisa Leaming and Jacob Watson putting it across to hilarious effect.

The second half offered numbers from The Threepenny Opera, Lady in the Dark, Street Scene, Love Life, Lost in the Stars, Knickerbocker Holiday, and Happy End. While each of those shows produced “hits” of a sort, this show went beyond them to touch on some of the lesser-known tunes, such as “Oh, Fabulous One” from Lady in the Dark.

The company closed the show with a heartfelt, unamplified rendition of “Here I’ll Stay” from Love Life. It was a nice reminder for the many older members of the audience of what Broadway sounded like when One Touch of Venus debuted, in the pre-microphone days: nuanced and oh, so human. 

James Holmes, a noted Weill expert, led a rock-solid 29-piece orchestra, Le Train Bleu, through the evening. The orchestra’s director, Ransom Wilson, conducted two Enre’Actes and played flute the rest of the evening.

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