Slim and elegant, Julia Migenes wafts onto the Odyssey stage, which is bare save for a baby grand, a chair, two or three crates and a ladder. She chats up the audience with easy self-effacing humor, then launches into the whys and wherefores of an evening of Kurt Weill songs. Establishing a warm rapport with the audience, she gives context to what they are about to hear, starting with the social cauldron of defeated Germany between the wars and the rise of Bertolt Brecht, the fierce communist playwright who changed the perception of what theatre can and, perhaps, should be – an instrument of social change. The Brecht-Weill coalition produced “The Threepenny Opera” with a style never before seen and with music never before heard. With a jazz and blues infused score and a unique style of performing that demands much of an audience, the influence of the show has reverberated down through the decades. There could never be a “Urinetown, the Musical” without first “The Threepenny Opera.”
Singing primarily in German, Ms. Migenes’ slate of songs includes many numbers from the composer’s most famous German works – “The Threepenny Opera,” “Happy End” and “Mahagonny,” as well two numbers from “Marie Galante,” a show produced in France after he fled Nazi Germany. Weill’s time in America composing music for Broadway is represented with songs from “Knickerbocker Holiday” and “Lady in the Dark.”
Ms. Migenes infuses her songs with such passion and such nuanced expression of voice and body that understanding each word of the songs sung in German or French is really irrelevant. She introduces each number to give a general understanding, then proceeds to invest the song with such immediacy that it is as if she invents it on the spot out of thin air, new, shiny and oh, so affecting. It cannot be overstated how intimate and personal she renders the songs.
She starts the evening with “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” (“The Ballad of Mack the Knife”). Chills run up the spine as she begins to bend the well-known melody to her will, and to those who know the song only from the pop recordings of Bobby Darin and others, it will be a revelation. Those with a familiar knowledge of the song from previous experience may well feel their eyes moisten.
Boldly reinterpreting the songs with freshness and ardor, she breathes new life into the “Threepenny” classic “Pirate Jenny.” She strikes a masculine attitude as she interprets “Kanonen Song” from “Threepenny” and “”Was die Herren Matrosen Sagen’ (“The Sailor’s Song”) from ”Happy End.”
Ms. Migenes’ excellent accompanist, Mitsuko Morikawa, takes the spotlight for three piano solos giving the singer a chance for an offstage slurp of water and, perhaps, a moment of stillness.
Julia Migenes is a thrilling world-class talent who connects with the audience in a joyful way as she sings, talks and dances away her ninety-plus minutes on stage. Lovers of the music of Kurt Weill, lovers of great singing and those seeking a theatrical thrill should not miss this very special engagement.
“Julia Migenes Sings Kurt Weill” runs Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8pm through December 19 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles.