Recordings > Musical Theater

WEILL: Knickerbocker Holiday

spacer O'Hara; Garber, B. Davis, Pinkham, Fitzgerald, Garrison, Ashmanskas, Blumenkrantz, Oscar, McCormick, Mendoza, Rosen; Collegiate Chorale, American Symphony Orchestra, Bagwell. No texts or translations. Ghostlight Records 8-4450


In January 2011, the Collegiate Chorale joined forces with the American Symphony Orchestra and some special guests to present a concert version of Knickerbocker Holiday at Alice Tully Hall. This live capture, edited from two performances, comprises the first complete recording of the score and is therefore a must-have for any Kurt Weill fan. That said, while there are some delightful numbers, winningly performed, it does set to rest any lingering doubts about why the show has not had a lasting stage life. Maxwell Anderson's leaden book is a condemnation of FDR's New Deal, thinly disguised as a piece of early New York City history. As such, it forms a poor foundation for light romantic musical comedy, which it also aims to be. Washington Irving, author of Anderson's source material, leads the audience through his artistic process as he rails against tabloid journalism and aspires to craft an enduring piece of literature. His fiction concerns Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New York, who rescues an American upstart, Brom Broeck, from hanging by his own council, only to be accused by Broeck of being a fascist. A love triangle then emerges, among Stuyvesant, Broeck and Tina Tienhoven, daughter of the council chairman.

Not surprisingly, the best remembered songs remain the standouts. "It Never Was You" is among the loveliest of musical-theater duets and is tenderly performed here by Ben Davis and Kelli O'Hara. O'Hara's light soprano takes on even more shimmer in their beguine, "We are Cut in Twain," although the number seems to have wandered in from a nearby nightclub. She soars beautifully in the descant of the charming choral waltz "Young People Think About Love," while Davis asserts his vigorous baritone in the happy-go-lucky "There's Nowhere to Go But Up." The splendid Victor Garber is a treat as Stuyvesant, and his rendition of the score's big hit, "September Song," teeters poignantly on the knifepoint of vocal agility and fading youth. He also strikes a wry tone of self-deprecation in the comedic "Sitting in Jail." "To War," which offers the lyric "To war, to war, to war/ We don't know what we're fighting for," is a little too unsettling to be entertaining. The duet between Broeck and Irving, "How Can You Tell an American," also hits its mark but is easier to swallow for those willing to laugh at national stereotypes. As Irving, Bryce Pinkham is saddled with the most elliptical material, but he effectively communicates his character's innocent idealism. We don't hear enough from Christopher Fitzgerald's Tenpin, who gets a drive-by moment in the slight "The Bachelor's Song."

Much of the choral music sounds like lesser Sullivan, although both chorus and orchestra perform with spirited commitment under the direction of James Bagwell. The recording includes just enough of the already pruned dialogue to contextualize the songs. It would have been nice to have the libretto, mainly to distinguish among the bumbling members of the council, characterfully limned with exaggerated faux-Dutch accents by David Garrison, Brooks Ashmanskas, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Brad Oscar, Michael McCormick, Orville Mendoza and Steve Rosen. spacer


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