NEW YORK - The love between composer Kurt Weill and singer Lotte Lenya was real, but their marriage was frequently tortured.
is too strong a description for
, the new musical about their relationship that opened under Harold Prince's direction Thursday night on Broadway. The show never works up enough passion for that.
Where is the spark? Not in Alfred Uhry's (Driving Miss Daisy) script, which puts on the brakes when the story should glide. Nor in Weill's songs, which often arrive in bits and pieces, and sometimes irritatingly fail to serve the plot.
And not in the Manhattan Theatre Club's skimpy production, in which a handful of actors fails to represent a sizable house party, and outdated musical bridges between scenes mock us with their inappropriate tra-la-la insincerity. In one scene in Paris - the cast sings that fact, repetitively - even Beowulf Boritt's scenery misfires; it's a lovely, curtained French window - framing a chintzy rendering of the Eiffel Tower, just in case we're not listening.
A lot of people will listen, though. They'll come for Weill's music and to see the matchless Donna Murphy as Lenya. They may be a bit disappointed in the many condensed songs, but they'll be thoroughly charmed by Murphy, who gives a masterfully considered portrayal of the late German singer.
You'd think that an evening of Weill's music - lyrics by himself, Bertolt Brecht (of course), Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash and Maxwell Anderson, to name a few - would have more than a passing chance of lighting up a theater. But the entire production seems to be performed in a slow cadence - is there a metronome in the house? - and I'm referring to the story line as well as some of the music. LoveMusik comes off not just as history, but as stodgy history - Broadway's period-piece jukebox musical.
All this despite three estimable talents on stage: Murphy, plus the normally compelling Michael Cerveris (Sweeney Todd) as Weill and David Pittu as Brecht. (Together Weill and Brecht wrote The Threepenny Opera, and Lenya starred.)
Pittu has a vibrantly written part, and exploits it masterfully. Cerveris' hangdog portrayal of the composer - which may aim to genuinely represent the man - seems unnecessarily plodding, as does some of his singing.
All three are hindered by their German accents, which are accurate at the expense of being fully understandable. Key lines are sometimes blurry, lyrics too often obliterated.
The production is clearly Murphy's to steal. She displays her character's pragmatism with the simplest purse of her lips, and a quick turn of the shoulder speaks volumes. She interprets her songs with both sweetness and force - her choice is always on target, and the devil-may-care attitude with which she invests Lenya seems just right.
When, in Act 1, she sings "Alabama Song," which people sometimes call "Whiskey Bar" (oh, don't ask why, oh, don't ask why), for an audition, Murphy's Lenya is hands-down the woman for Weill's songs. She nails it, but LoveMusik itself remains unhinged.
Music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by various artists, book by Alfred Uhry. Directed by Harold Prince, musical staging by Patricia Birch, scenery by Beowulf Boritt, lighting by Howell Binkley, costumes by Judith Dolan, sound by Duncan Robert Edwards. Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club.
The cast: Donna Murphy (Lotte Lenya), Michael Cerveris (Kurt Weill), David Pittu (Bertolt Brecht).
Playing at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., New York. Tickets: $76.25-$101.25. Information 1-800-432-7250 or www.manhattantheatreclub.com.