Backstage Pick! Read Review
La MaMa E.T.C. will present the U.S. premiere of "Tonight: Lola Blau," written and composed by Georg Kreisler, English version by Don White, directed by Dick Top (Holland), featuring Anna Krämer (Germany) as Lola. This U.S. premiere is an opportunity for NY audiences to savor one of Europe's "big little" musicals and its unforgettable holocaust themes. The piece depicts a rising, charismatic, Dietrich-style cabaret singer who is forced to flee Austria because of her Jewish heritage, taking refuge in the U.S. She makes do with "survival jobs" on Tin Pan Alley until her sensational return to her homeland after the war, when she discovers that nothing much has changed.
The show was actually written in 1971 by Georg Kreisler, a virtuoso composer, satirist, pianist and musical wit whose songs include "Please Shoot Your Husband," "My Psychoanalyst Is an Idiot" and "Two Old Aunts Dance the Tango." Many of his songs are just as popular with today's generation as they were 50 years ago when he first wrote them. His other plays include "Der Tote Play" (1974), "Aufstand der Schmetterlinge, Der 2000" and "Adam Schaf hat Angst" (2002). His books include "Wenn ihr Lachen wollt" (When You Want To Laugh), "Ernste Bedenken - Lieder zu Zeit" and "Ist Wien Überflussig" (Is Vienna Superfluous?). Critics have characterized "Tonight: Lola Blau" as a brilliant tour de force for any actress who can bring it off.
The musical was first performed in the Kleines Theater der Josefstadt in Vienna and ended after a run of 175 sold-out performances. Its early success was later repeated in Berlin, Hamburg and Israel. It continues to fascinate European audiences with its ruthless view of the Holocaust and its legacy on subsequent generations. It has been widely produced, but never before in the U.S. It was adapted into English in 1993 by Don White, an English translator and advertising man, who had co-founded Opera Rara in 1970 and subsequently won laurels for his translations of Donizetti's "Le Convenienze Teatrali," Poniatowski's "Au Travers du Mur" and Offenbach's "Robinson Crusoe," among others. His version of "Robinson Crusoe" was acclaimed by Rodney Milnes in Opera Magazine as "setting new standards in the translation of comic opera." White's English adaptation has been performed in England and Ireland.
The musical opens with Lola Blau as a Jewish singer trying to find work in Nazi-occupied Vienna. Escaping to the United States, she is obliged to sing in seedy nightclubs before achieving fame. After the war, she returns, with some trepidation, to Vienna. Her story is told in a nearly continuous flow of Kurt Weill-style numbers, each cleverly evoking a mood, a period or environment in wickedly accurate parody and pastiche. There are about twenty chansons, during which are projected historical images like Hitler on pedistals, splattered 'Juden' signs and body-littered battlefields. In Lola's return concert, she slyly condemns all those who failed to notice the disappearance of six million Jews and confronts the audience with its prejudices. She dares the audience to share Kreisler's disgust at Austria's posing as a victim of Nazism rather than as a collaborator.
Lola's pride at having survived--and her guilt at having left Europe--are neatly and poignantly captured in the play, which juxtaposes images of war with snippets of contemporaneous American culture, like "The Good Ship Lollypop" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Her return to Vienna turns the city inside out, with brilliant songs about collaborators ("Frau Schmidt), the entrenched plutocrat impresarios ("Herr Director") and a sardonic sendup of "Thank God for Hollywood" sung to Mozart's Piano Sonata in C major.
Kreisler's story actually eclipses Lola's (he admits that everything he does is somewhat autobiographical). He was born in Austria in 1922 and took refuge in the U.S. during WWII, struggling to establish himself among such Jewish expatriates as Arnold Schönberg and Friedrich Holländer. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, working in anti-Nazi intelligence and as a translator at the Nuremberg trials. Although he returned to Europe in 1955, Kreisler has retained his American citizenship. His dark humor and uncompromising criticism of society and politics have caused him many difficulties, including appearance prohibitions in radio and television. Now in his eighties, he lives in Basel with his wife, cabaret artist Barbara Peters.
The show's popularity on the continent is partly explained by Europe's continuing obsession with the Holocaust. British audiences have also found it marvelously illuminating. Reviewing a 1995 production with East German actress Esther Zsieschow at The Old Red Lion, Islington (London), critic Graham Hassell wrote in "What's On" that the piece found an "appreciative audience, who like me, discovered new and sad facts about post war anti-Semitism and denial or ignorance of the Holocaust in Austria and the UK. It is perhaps a shame that few or none of them were of the generation of young people here in the UK that is credited with knowing nothing about the Holocaust or the significance of Auschwitz. And that's despite current emphasis on Holocaust studies in schools, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the institution of National Holocaust Memorial Day."
Dick Top (director) was born in Holland and has worked for over 30 years as a stage director on productions around the world. A man of many theatrical interests, he has directed plays, opera, musicals and operettas in Belgium, Scotland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. His productions include the musicals "The Life," "Evita," The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Nunsense," often with American actors in the cast, and plays by Pinter, Albee, Israel Horovitz, Shakespeare and Mamet. He has worked in the Drama Department of the University of Hartford in Connecticut and he was an assistant to Jo Mielziner and Alan Schneider. He studied acting with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York. His directorial approach is heavily centered upon the actor. On a personal level, he rejects the negative image of man and believes in "the human force, the force of the individual person who is capable to create his own world and tries to find in that world his personal happiness." His other productions on WWII themes include "Korczak and the Children" by Erwin Sylvanus and "Address Unknown" by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor. (www.dicktop.eu)
There are also reverberations of Lola's story in the life of Dick Top's wife and close collaborator, Irene Hulst. Her mother, being Jewish, was only able to get a visa to Australia (although Irene's uncles and aunts manage to emigrate to the U.S. and settled in Massachusetts). On the boat to Melbourne, she met and fell in love with a Dutch man, married him by proxy in Indonesia, and returned to join him in Amsterdam only 15 days before the fighting broke out. She lived with him in Amsterdam, in hiding, throughout most of the war. "People of our generation owe our lives to the Americans and Canadians," Irene says. She adds that she and Dick are grateful and proud to present this play in New York, especially this year, which is the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage.
Anna Krämer (Lola Blau) is a bilingual musical theater actress and solo artist who lives in Germany. Lola Blau is becoming her "signature" part after productions at international theater festivals in Amsterdam, Aruba and Ivory Coast. She has performed leads in musicals including "The Rocky Horror Show," "I Love You, You´re Perfect, Now Change" and "Little Shop of Horrors." A comedienne, singer and songwriter, she created a musical, "Die Twotones," for herself in Mannheim and has toured it throughout Germany. She has been a lead singer and host on cruise ship shows (Kuba, Mexiko, Carrebean) and in Varieté. In addition to her solo turns in "Die Twotones" and "Tonight: Lola Blau," she has also played the unforgettable French chansonniere Edith Piaf. She was trained in both Germany and New York, studying at the Universities of Münster and Heidelberg and also in New York at the Lee Strasberg Institute and the Ward Acting Studio (Meisner technique). She trained in singing at SUNY Purchase and cabaret at the Singers' Forum in New York. She has also studied voice with Philippo Di Stefano (NYC) and Mary Ann Seibel (Mannheim). (www.annakraemer.de)
Joe Völker (musical director and pianist) has played and directed numerous musicals in Germany, Italy, and the UK, including "Evita," "Rat Pack" and "Cabaret." He works steadily with the "crème de la crème" of the German theater scene. His CD productions are prolific and he is a well-known musical arranger in Germany. He's also much sought-after sideman for pop and jazz shows as well as classical concerts and works as a character actor in dramatic plays. "Tonight: Lola Blau" shows him off as both a musician and an actor.
Director Dick Top had appeared at La MaMa in the 1970s. He caught La MaMa's attention to this play with an informal presentation last March at the Player's Club, which led to the invitation for this production.
by Gwen Orel
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As Lola Blau, a Jewish chanteuse from Vienna who rides out World War II in America, Anna Krämer is lovable. Her husky, vulnerable speaking voice morphs into a clear soprano with graceful period style when she sings. She adds tenderness to the most satirical of lyrics (translated from the German by Don White). Even Krämer's German accent adds to a sense of the character as Dietrich manqué. German composer-lyricist George Kreisler's 1971 one-woman-plus-speaking-accompanist show has never had a stateside production before, though it ran in Germany and Israel. Smoothly directed by Dick Top, and supported by portly pianist (and excellent comic actor) Joe Völker, it is a touching entertainment.
The show opens as Lola peruses old photo albums, intoning a poem/song about "silent voices making silent noises." We then flash back to 1938, where Lola, excited about an upcoming stage appearance, sings "No. 1 Theatre Street." Disturbing phone calls from an uncle and from her lover, Leo, leaving Czechoslovakia and Austria, respectively, interrupt her. Her landlady (Völker) delivers a telegram canceling her appearance, and a yellow star with the word Jude falls out of it. "That's life," Lola croons to the star. Unexpectedly, her visa to the United States is approved, leading to a gorgeous should-be standard, "Miracles Can Happen."
Once Lola is en route to America, the show seems an excuse to string songs together. "Sex Is a Wonderful Habit," for which Lola is costumed as a lecturer in evening gown, is delicious but has no connection to the story. Only after Lola returns to Austria to reunite with Leo and sings "Mrs. Schmidt," accusing the Austrians of looking the other way, does the show's form return. When Leo is attacked for being Jewish, Lola realizes that nothing has changed. Her observations about guilt and hypocrisy are less trenchant (because less surprising) now than in 1971. Still, Krämer's delivery of Kreisler's lovely songs turns Lola Blau into a star.