Jewish artists fleeing Nazi persecution into the Golden Age of American musicals inspired by From Vienna to Hollywood and Broadway, an operetta, film and stage composition pastiche by writer-director Gregory Yurisich performing at the Camelot Theater in Mosman Park.
Think, Cabaret 2: The Aftermath.
It’s a good fit for Couch Opera, the online creation of sopranos Magda Lisek and Jillian Halleron during COVID isolation, bringing stranded artists to work across the world.
And the buzz of accents on Saturday reflected migrants from Europe and Asia finding a place on WA’s art scene.
As the opening rolled over Michael Schouten’s keyboard, visions of a grand palace with a sparkling chandelier set the scene for 1920s Austria and Grafin Mariza’s opening number, Let’s go to Varasdin. ‘Emmerich Kalman.
Lisek joined soprano Yann Kee, tenor Jun Zhang and baritone Matt Dixon – four amigos from last year’s Couch Opera show – in the Schuhplatt dance and slapstick with crisp German diction; the four artists more confident musically and dramatically than after confinement.
Zhang found full voice and engagement in Komm Zigany (Grafin Mariza) while Kee was powerful but nuanced in Forever L’Amour (Paul Abraham’s Ball im Savoy), one of the many flaming songs of the night.
Lisek and Dixon teamed up for Durch diesen Kuss (Carl Millocker’s Bettelstudent), their duo conjuring up magic in the midst of a Machiavellian maneuver; perhaps a metaphor for a disturbed world that finds art in a suburban cinema.
The show’s first big number, La bella Tangolita (Ball im Savoy) introduced mezzo Ileana Rinaldi and tenor Tom Buckmaster to the mix; Rinaldi commands a comically servile chorus line with a hint of Hollywood bravery, his ripe tones caressing the singing Latin rhythms.
A mix of Robert Stolz songs completed the section before Puccini’s Humming Chorus (Madama Butterfly) invoked more familiar sounds and sights with America the Beautiful, God Bless America, and Hurray for Hollywood.
The English idiom seemed to pick up the pace, with Lisek bringing sparkle and a technicolor-rich voice to Sweethearts (Victor Herbert), while the boys played three melodramatic Stooges in Stout-hearted Men (The New Moon, Sigmund Romberg) and Kee rediscovered love in Romance (The Desert Song, Romberg), sung in a cabaret style on the piano, sumptuous and bewitching.
Dixon found some delicacy in Love for Love (Escape Me Never, Erich Korngold), before Serenade (The Student Prince) rocked the section with nostalgia and pizzazz.
Dixon and Schouten joined forces on the piano for Give my regards to Broadway (George M. Cohan), a surprise introduction to a Rodgers and Hammerstein medley, with nods to South Pacific, Oklahoma, State Fair, Carousel and The Sound of Music.
Kurt Weill’s songbook served as memorable moments for Dixon in Mack the Knife (Threepenny Opera) and Lost in Stars; for Rinaldi in Trouble Man (Lost in Stars) – the pathetic personified in painful regret; and for Kee in I’m a Stranger Here Myself (One Touch of Venus), poignantly exploring the existential dilemma.
Finally, Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat (Guys and Dolls) by Frank Loesser – by a non-refugee composer – combined American spirituality with the Judeo-Euro-European tradition; and Sposalizio (The Most Happy Fella) channeled Italian folk culture.
As a reminder, Meredith Willson’s Goodnight my Someone (Music Man) rocked the audience with a rich romantic harmony.
From Vienna to Hollywood and Broadway is playing again on Friday and Saturday, November 12 and 13, at 7:30 p.m., at the Camelot Theater.