"My cousin was in the original 1972 production," Lisitza relates, "and he tells these wonderful stories of how Lotte Lenya came and coached them. The show was all about letting young singers reinterpret the music of Weill and all those incredible lyrics."
Beginning with The Threepenny Opera, first performed in Germany in 1928, Berlin to Broadway follows Weill through his German period (Happy End and Mahagonny) through his time in Paris (where Marie Galante premiered) and the great successes he had after he and Lenya made their now famous voyage to America in 1935, including Johnny Johnson, Lady in the Dark, One Touch of Venus, Street Scene, and the incomparable Lost in the Stars.
Lisitza is no stranger to Weill. "I've always loved his music, but mostly the German stuff more than the American musicals," she says. "I learned 'Surabaya Johnny' from Happy End about 10 years ago, sang it at an audition, and got a scholarship to come to New York."
Born and raised on a farm in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan, Lisitza tells me the story of Weill and the tractor: "I used to sing 'Surabaya Johnny' when I would do farm work; I'd bring along this tape player and blast it while plowing. That's how I learned the song!" Egged on by her first musical theater teacher in New York, Brian Aschinger, Lisitza became a "Lotte Lenya girl," using her full mezzo voice to wonderful effect in the Weill repertoire.
"You know, there's a whole group of Kurt Weill lovers in New York, and we've been getting a lot of them at the show," Lisitza notes. "Older people in the audience relate so much to what Weill went through--leaving Germany, and everything. But I think these songs speak to everybody. I feel really honored to be singing them."
In the show, Lisitza shares the stage with three other talented singers: Judith Jarosz (producing artistic director of Theater Ten Ten), Michael Winther (recently seen in 1776 on Broadway), and Bjorn Olsson. The 38 songs included in Berlin to Broadway are given full-out performances: especially notable are Lisitza's renditions of "Surabaya Johnny" and "The Saga of Jenny" from Lady in the Dark, Winther and Olsson's "Bilbao & Mandalay" from Happy End, and the beautiful "I Wait for a Ship" from Marie Galante as sung by Jarosz. "Kurt Weill died when he was 50," Lisitza reminds me. "Can you imagine the kind of music he would have written if he had kept going for 20 or 30 more years."
For those not familiar with Lisitza's work, her recent one woman musical Daddy's Girl was quite a hit at the Duplex, and her other credits (both here and in Canada) include The Importance of Being Ernest and the world premiere of The Molly Maguires. "I'm thinking about doing another cabaret show," she says, "but this time I want to make it autobiographical--to tell my story from Porcupine to here."
In the meantime, if you need a Kurt Weill fix or are just looking for a great evening of song, you can't do better for your buck ($15) then Lorinda Lisitza and crew in Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill, playing through May 28.