Fascinating material in KT Sullivan and Karen Kohler‘s show “From Vienna to Weimar” at The Crazy Coqs – great periods of history to contrast!
Two of America’s favourite cabaret artists KT Sullivan and Karen Kohler come together in this most unusual revue showcasing the songs of Viennese operetta with the harsh social commentary of the Weimar Republic – a scintillating contrast!
Classical singer KT Sullivan has been seen in London many times at Pizza On the Park and The Pheasantry, and was here last year at The Crazy Coqs in a revelatory show on important cabaret figure, our own Mabel Mercer – criminally unknown in her native country of Great Britain. See my review here.
Karen Kohler was also at The Crazy Coqs earlier this year sharing her love of Weimar Republic material – a singer with a wonderfully wide background with her feet firmly on the ground. German-born and raised in Texas, she used to be the manager of Whole Foods! I also reviewed her here.
Opening with the almost sugary elegance of Vienna, Sullivan who presents this element of the show, moves through the audience welcoming us with champagne and singing “Wien, Wien, nur du allein (Vienna, City of Dreams)”, written in 1914, the last year the city was known by that title. A few songs later, she is joined by Kohler dressed in male attire for the following recurrent themes of crossing genders and gay and lesbian relationships – shocking for the time.
This fascinating section had several standout numbers ranging from the tantalising duet “Wenn die beste Freundin (When the Special Girlfriend)”, hinting the artists may be more than good friends , to the angry “Raus mit den Maennern aus dem Reichstag (Chuck All the Men)”, which is so contemporary in its sentiments, it could almost have been written in the 1970s, through to Sullivan’s raucous and characterful “Pirate Jenny”. I also particularly liked the spoken set-up and vocal delivery of Kohler’s “Song von Mandelay”, fully capturing the depravity depicted whilst maintaining requisite taste.
There was plenty of vocal variety stemming from the soaring soprano of Sullivan to the deliciously hard edge on Kohler’s sound, so necessary for Weimar material. Her sense of drama is arresting. The lyrics wove in and out of the original German into crafted English translations from Jeremy Lawrence, Hollywood’s main translator for Marlene Dietrich, keeping us in the picture without sacrificing authenticity or flavour.
This is also a beautifully structured and staged show, making excellent use of space with well executed movement – theatrical, whilst still in keeping with cabaret.
Ably accompanied by Jed Distler, this show is a very satisfying overview contrasting the airiness of comfortable Vienna with the underground salaciousness and haunting sound of the oppressive, yet culturally rich Weimar era. A unique piece, providing historical material particularly appropriate as part of the London Festival of Cabaret.
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