I'm running a bit late, just missed the express at 14th st, I prewalk the platform and arrive at 6:54, Stephen Downing the great stalwart is corralling the creme de la creme of New York outside, he informs me that his daughter has just gotten a 2 book deal for her young adult fiction, with get this, AN ADVANCE, I smile, cause it genuinely feels like I have just received the same, life is good. I shake some hands, and light up a smoke, he says "Your still smoking that shit?" I laugh, I said yeah well, times are tough. He says his son is going through the same thing. Outside on 72nd, the patrons fill in. I smash my butt, and go up to the rabbit hole above. Welcome to the Triad.
I'm sitting in the front row next to the former head of Phillip Morris, hes the perfect accompaniment to such a smoking performance from the Mabel Mercer Foundation's Artistic Director KT Sullivan and the sultry Karen Kohler. Now I have seen both perform, but never together, and never in such a theater. The Triad is a true cabaret minus the girls selling cigarettes and shots, and the structure, layout and size of the room is a perfect addition to such a unique show. Its been awhile since I've seen a cabaret, but from the performances I have had the pleasure to have witnessed from both entertainers at the National Arts Club's Dutch Treat Club I knew I was in for a treat. I glance down at the tickets people have placed on the table, and the two drink minimum -cash only stares right back up at me. The waiter approaches and says "What would you like to drink", I made the admittance that I don't drink, truth be told the ice cold georgi vodka sitting in the fridge warmed with jealousy at that moment, with fine spirits in the air, your humbled reviewer ordered water, as he was informed that there was a two drink minimum, I say water, he said sparkling or flat. I say flat. He disappears. I am sandwiched in on this deadline, reviewers from the Wall Street Journal and New York Times are flanking the back sides of the theater.
The chit chat from the high profile flows over the tables as the stage rests empty with the piano caressed in fur boas asleep, waiting to spring forth. The pianist sits down with his red bow tie and red socks looking very serious. He finally glances across the audience for 3 seconds, gives his approval, then back to the seriousness of the score. The conversation comes up to Astrological signs rather quickly and not by my hand. I should never admit the obvious, everyone has that moment of confusion. I should just say "I'm a Scorpio", but sheepishly say yes former Scorpio, newfound Libra, and this man, and point to our companion, is no longer a Sagittarius but an Ophiuchus. The piano player is pressing the keys methodically quite soft as to not make a sound. I'm wearing black jeans, still not a corduroy class of the Phillip Morris sort, or the ilk of the many slacks. I'm beginning to think that this show will not start at 7. 7:17 and the crowd is dying down a bit, my water order has never arrived. I would hate to pay for water, but with no liquid I'm in the clear. Damnit! Bottled Flat Water has arrived, god knows I'm glad I brought some laundry money. I personally cannot tell the difference in Saratoga versus tap, this may not turn out to be such a great review if my palette is so daft since 1872. The lights have dimmed, the lemon added, someone acutely mentions "something is happening".
KT approaches as a sauntering dilettante a dream in violet, champagne spilling from the glass as she joyously cheers Vienna singing in a light operatic purr clinking glasses from the back of the house. The germans sure know how to party. She looks elegant in a purple sequined long dress. She has now made her way up to the front of the house and has clinked us all, even the plastic cup of Phillip Morris's ice tea. "Vienna!" A roar of applause cheers the salutatory KT. She welcomes us to the program, and this is where you find out exactly what the meat and potatoes of this performance will be. Its an education, a translation, an enjoyment of 100 years of music represented here, half in german, half in english, and spackled through a bit of both, the translated translated and then sung resung again. The intimacy of this theater is perfect for her voice and presence.
The Second number really hits. Strauss' 1874 tale of Adele, a maid going out to a masked ball pretending to be her mistress. This is where KT really separates herself out as something more substanced then just a brilliant singer, she is acting and singing in german, its quite a feat to be able to easily mesh and combine so many angles. She is showing her legs in german. The line of her spine counting the pretty vertebrae. She just grabbed my knee, shes grabbing all the knees of the front house and then proudly flaunts her's to show her pedigree. The lights flash like a seizure as she ends high. Its hard to tell whats scripted and whats not when you have such a synergy between performers. She starts My bed. I am a vamp half woman half beast. I suck my men dry and then bake them in a pie. She is having fun. She straddles the chair and sings of having Brecht's Hat, Thomas Mann gives me a facial with Goebbels shaving cream!
This is where the two woman performance finally begins as Karen Kohler graces the stage and the show begins to change. She is dressed in a full on tux, and they start the song "Special Girlfriend". The coexistence of their voices is quite good when it works, sometimes over the length of the program it can be a bit off maybe just because I can't speak german, but KT deet deetly dees really highlight the lower voice of Karen. They agree that their man is no good and the piano player joins in on the actions portraying a third character in the exchange. You can tell that this show has taken a new course. Karen sits down in the chair with her legs spread and watches KT go on about emancipation to chuck all the men. Chuck the men out of the Reichstag! The variant german and english rants are great. Men are the problem with humanity!
An East German Bright Red Book appears in the hands of Karen, who hands it to KT to find a picture. It was hugely popular in east germany and is entitled the 10th Muse by Clare Weiderhoff "The Berlin Mouth" at the old Black Cat cabaret. Her show "God men are stupid" went for a thousand run. And per Karen was as tall as she was wide. They both grab one side of the stage and the light goes down, one sings in english the other in german. KT vanishes and Karen stands alone to speak of translations. She explains that translations are needed to keep songs alive. And shes dead on. It would have been a shame to not hear these songs whether in the original or in english. Jeremy Lawrence is apparently the culprit of most of these translations, and hats off is due, for the english sounds crisp and flowing. She then performs "Purple Song" she has translated this one herself. She goes back to german on a bouncing thunder of the piano. She is best when she is like this, full of energy, convicted, and belting out, I can hear the familiar foot stamp from the crowd. The rights to purple days and purple nights! When shes singing in german she really takes it up a notch.
The next song is pretty swell, Its the Masculine/Feminine Feminine/Masculine portrait of the two woman. KT playing the dressed up Feminine/Masculine, Karen the Masculine/Feminine she puts on her top hat. The chemistry is hot between the two young ladies and it serves to produce a Mascufemine hermaphroditic baby! There's no cuter neuter and there making more! wrestling together in the chair. They are dynamic together here.
"Conqueror" shows the true animalistic wanton passion the women have for a virile dirty dog of a man but only on occasion. As KT puts it "Power is the greatest arousal of them all." She could use a little touch of Attila a hit of him, a bit of him is quite fun. When love gets a bit to vanilla Attila is the one I see, my Attila the Hun. Karen gets in on the action, Now a days there are no conquerors, but bankers and generals one bald and one fat. Young men come to soon. Older men are to sweet and cuddly like a macaroon. No cock ever crowed loud enough for me she intones. Hot virility, oy vey she wants to marry a barbarian! A cute little brute who knows how to shoot - Attila my hun.
We enter the whorehouse via KT. The Grand plan of men on the shore. Johnny is taking to long, someone take a gun and shoot a peek hold in the door. Karen ensues Love is not like time, So why do you waste it sun, The Mandalay German Song is a raunchy boy waiting for the gruff knowen mistress behind the wood. Enchanting this comedy in german.
KT is suddenly scrubbing the floors, rubbing them bare in hate, she is a witch of a soap monger, scrubbing the floors whilre you a gawkin'. You'll never know who your talking to. KTs range is this level, from washer woman to operatic, its range. A bawdy angry scrubber woman mischievous in her plans for the men who stare, happy for the ships coming into the harbor. Happy in glee to see it all leveled. The Black Freighter Arrives and the men are brought to her in chains. They ask her finally should we kill them Now or Later. Right now she soothes. The pile of bodies , that will learn ya! and the washer woman is left standing. Dark and powerful.
KT is back to german, she is the lament of the whore, stocks are bad and her beau has gone back to his wife. If I never kiss again she quips, I'll finally get more sleep. The next number is the Munchhausen song by Friedrich Hollander 1932. She states that its her belief that this is his Dream of a Weimer Republic. Liar Liar Liar The Truth is hard and real that's why we need fairy tales. Karen comes in with the german Louga Louga Louga, KT wants to buy the illusion. They coalesce at the end to bring a stunning tribute going liar for louga!
The madness of Hitler. The spring will come in the Ruins of Berlin. A midst the ruins of Berlin the trees are in bloom like they never have been before. Together The Ruins of Berlin. Both make there way to the back of the house, the stage goes dark and a great round of applause breaks out. I must say at this point KT is prancing like a youthful nymph. Leonard COHEN? He comes out in Take this Waltz, this Waltz in Vienna from the back of the room Karen: Take this waltz! She is singing face back to the stage for the sound is bouncing around the theater. And then she's there, behind me, very intimate, and she waltzes the wind of Vienna. I prefer her version to Cohen's substantially. KT answers and then they grab hands and walk together singing, KT SOARS bringing the entire house down with everyone clapping and stomping, they both belt out "THE RUINS OF BERLIN"
So a hell of a show. My overall appreciation of the evening breaks down this way. Two songs towards the end I received the bill for the water! I think that I have never purchased this much water before. It was well worth it. It saddens me to think that during this period of time in history this was an active scene. I would love to have this vein of performance, literature and language, song and protest so magnificently woven together to form a hoot house sexy songfest from such talented sirens, all the time. Throw your TV out the window, take off all that distracts you, this truly is vibrant human performance. "Vienna to Weimar" is worth its weight in water, to flow forth the hope that these sort of shows continue and thrive in the future!