Sunday, July 03, 2005


I went to two very unusual shows while I was in San Francisco: Here Lies Jenny and a Gershwin double bill at the San Francisco Symphony. If I review them, I have to give them both pans. Bebe Neuwirth could hardly coax any sound out of her voice at all, and that has to be bad, right? And why would anyone want to revive the Gershwins’ Of Thee I Sing and Let ‘Em Eat Cake? They’re very dated political satire and very little else. So that’s bad, right?

Bebe tried to come up with an appropriate venue to present the amazing songs of Kurt Weill. She even had the guts to leave out Weill's hit tunes “Jenny’s Song” and “Mackie Messer,” otherwise known as Mack the Knife. She came up with a little bit of plot, a lot of ambience, a little bit of dancing and a lot of singing. It’s just that her voice gave out. So does that mean it's good or bad? In a ranking with other Kurt Weill shows she gets 1 or 2 stars. In a ranking with other stuff she gets at least 3 stars.

Michael Tilson Thomas, the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, sometimes gives the impression he would rather be working Broadway. He has a certain musical vision that does not precisely overlap with standard orchestral repertoire. In fact it often does not overlap at all. He has no head for broad, slow tempos, for instance. If you are an impatient person, he’s your man. I’d never heard these Gershwin shows before, and now I have. They were well presented, and I was mildly entertained. The performers did as much with them as they possibly could. So how many stars does it get? Boring works brilliantly presented gets what?

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