One of the joys of Paris is how often unexpected performances pop up in unlikely locations. I had been to La Cave Café in the 18th arrondissement before, but I imagined that the bar’s name (“cave” means “cellar”) hinted only at huge stocks of delicious vintage wine underneath our feet.
No less delicious, however, was the wonderful show I saw there on Sunday: MeanWeill, based on music by Kurt Weill. It took place in the café’s stone-vaulted basement, which turned out to be an ideal venue for small theatrical/musical offerings. Audience members make their way down narrow stone steps to a space with a small stage, rows of chairs and surprisingly good acoustics.
The opening-night audience was treated to a beautifully judged staged performance by singer-actors Lucy Dixon and Perry Leopard and musician Hubert de Leusse of a full range of Weill’s output, moving from the composer’s collaborations with playwright Bertolt Brecht in 1920s Berlin and Paris to the music he wrote for Broadway in the 1930s and ’40s. While English-language songs dominated the evening, Dixon also sang songs in French and German.
Her beautifully trained voice and Leopard’s rougher-hued vocals were ideally suited to the very different musical styles of Brecht’s music. Gritty songs from works like The Threepenny Opera match Leopard’s singing style (his distinctive performance of “Mackie Messer,” better known as “Mack the Knife,” was a highlight), while Weill’s sweeter melodies were given consummate renditions by Dixon (her singing of the bittersweet “Surabaya Johnny” will linger long in my memory), but both artists showed their impressive versatility by performing songs that went against type.
They also acted out the micro-stories contained in each song with conviction, humor and style, making excellent use of all parts of the performance space, including the bar itself. Further proof of their multiple skills was demonstrated when Leopard played the harmonica and Dixon contributed on the piano.
Special praise must go to de Leusse, who provided impeccably judged musical accompaniment on the guitar, accordion and piano. His way of following the singers closely, remaining alert to every nuance and pause, was fascinating to behold.
This marvelous show will be performed over the next two weekends in the same venue. Don’t miss it. You will be surprised to discover how many familiar and much-loved songs were actually written by Weill!Favorite