Songs from a Hotel Bedroom
Music by Kurt Weill
Segue with New Wolsey Theatre, Watford Palace Theatre and ROH2
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House
Production company Segue has the embryo of a marvellous concept in melding the songs of Kurt Weill for an unpretentious new travelling musical theatre and dance show. Its project partners are New Wolsey Theatre, Watford Palace Theatre and ROH2 at the Royal Opera House.
Songs from a Hotel Bedroom has already played at Watford Palace and the New Wolsey, and has only three dates at the Linbury. A testing dip of their toes into the waters of audience reaction... Not a dynamic response, and lots of distracting coughing on my night there (second night), though a packed and receptive auditorium.
Co-writers Kate Flatt (also choreographer) and Peter Rowe have seamlessly combined Kurt Weill's Broadway show songs to create a simple tale of yearning passion and thwarted love: a threadbare hand-me-down sentimental story very like the Hollywood films of the pre- and post-Second World War era.
Set in the late 1940s in New York, Songs from a Hotel Bedroom tells the story of a love affair gone wrong between cabaret singer Angélique (Frances Ruffelle) and songwriter Dan (Nigel Richards) riven apart by his ambition. Alone in her hotel bedroom Angélique looks back on what was and what might have been.
If you're a Weill fan then Frances Ruffelle must compete with interpreters such as Ute Lemper and Teresa Stratas (not to mention Lotte Lenya, of course), for whom each song is a mini-drama, and she falls short of that mark for me in both tone and intonation.
Nigel Richards' soft-pedalled baritone is lovely and warm, if somewhat withheld, maybe to accommodate Ruffelle's thinner instrument. One feels he could really let rip if allowed. Both are miked - in a small studio space this is very apparent.
There's a lively seven-piece cabaret band (musical direction is by James Holmes, a Weill enthusiast) playing live on stage, its members doubling up as band mates in the shows that Dan is writing - very neat - on a shoestring budget set.
Inevitably, the reason for seeing the show is the chance to hear over a decade's (1936-1948) worth of Weill's rarely-heard American sojourn songs from Lady in the Dark, The Firebrand of Florence, One Touch of Venus ('Speak Low'), Johnny Johnson, Knickerbocker Holiday ('September Song'), Love Life, with lyrics by the likes of Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash, and Alan J Lerner in a stage setting.
The haunting 'Youkali: Tango Habanera', written in 1934 as incidental music for the play Marie Galante (lyrics were added in 1946 by Roger Fernay), a refrain that pervades, and weaves in and out of the separate set-piece vignettes and songs, is the basis of the tango gently danced by the main characters' young alter-egos (Amir Giles and Tara Pilbrow). Their spectres will go on dancing forever, after the real life lovers cease to be, as does Weill's immortal music.
Songs from a Hotel Bedroom is a great idea, but one that, I feel, needs more passionate embrace and contact. One ought to be moved by the music, the dance, the text, and the context. Wrung out even
The tango-dancing young couple dance dreamily but they might as well be at a tea dance, so sedate and cautious is their tango And this permeates the show. No shivers down the spine, yet.
Reviewer: Vera Liber