Most widely known for writing hits like Driving Miss Daisy, Alfred Uhry is one of those rare writers who managed to win the trifecta of dramatic writing with an Oscar, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize. This weekend, he is coming to the Lexington Public Library's Farish Theater to watch a reprisal of his 2007 musical, LoveMusik, jointly produced by Balagula Theatre and Bluegrass Opera Theatre.
The musical had a limited run on Broadway, which was extended for a week, in May and June 2007. It received four Tony Award nominations and had subsequent international productions, including one on London's West End.
In Lexington, Balagula and Bluegrass Opera have united to mount a stripped down, Brechtian version of the musical that they say better serves the material, especially when you consider that Bertolt Brecht is a character in the show.
The show spotlights the romance between Jewish composer Kurt Weill and his wife, singer and actress Lotte Lenya and was inspired by Speak Low (When You Speak Love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, edited and translated by Lys Symonette and Kim H. Kowalke.
The first half of the musical focuses on Weill and Lenya's lives in pre-World War II Germany, including Weill's collaboration with Bertolt Brecht on important works like The Three Penny Opera and their eventual falling out. The second act takes place after the couple fled Germany, carving new lives for themselves in the United States.
Rachel Rogers, artistic director of Balagula Theatre, felt the show had been too lightly dismissed because of its short Broadway run, so she reached out to Bluegrass Opera Theatre to see if they would be interested in collaborating on a re-imagining of the show.
"Since it is a show that actually includes Brecht in it, I felt like it was supposed to be done in this stripped down, experimental, black box style way," says Rogers, who directs and stars as Lenya. "That really excited me, the idea of revitalizing this beautifully written script that didn't get the credit that it should have during its broadway run because stylistically, the concept didn't fit the material."
Lorne Dechtenberg, artistic director of Bluegrass Opera Theatre, was up for the challenge.
"I read it and thought it was a great work for us to pursue," says Dechtenberg, who plays Weill in addition to being music director. "Weill's music straddles wonderfully that line between classical music and popular music. That makes his language sit right on the fence between classical and pop. We love that style that sits on the fence. It doesn't require you to be a fully trained opera singer but you have to be an actor who can sing."
Rogers and Dechtenberg both say that working a little outside of their usual comfort zone — Balagula has never done a musical, for instance — has been a boon to the production.
"Truthfully the process for the actors has been a different one than I've been using with Bluegrass Opera Theatre because we come at it as singers who act, not as actors who sing," says Dechtenberg. "It's been a real treat to get to step into the actor's shoes. I haven't got to do it in awhile and it's like I'm returning to a place that I was a long time ago and forgot how much enjoyed it."
Dechtenberg also reached out to the playwright himself, who will be attending Saturday night's performance and giving a Q & A talk after the show. Uhry gave Dechtenbeg and Rogers an updated version of the script.
Dechtenberg says, "We're thrilled he'll be coming to town this weekend."