Lili Marlene

| October 19, 2017

Lili Marlene

St. Luke’s Theatre, NYC, September 26, 2017

Reviewed by Chip Deffaa for Cabaret Scenes

Clint Hromsco and Amy Londyn
Photo: Lou Vitacco.

The book, music, and lyrics for Lili Marlene—a musical running Off-Broadway in New York at St. Luke’s Theatre—are, alas, about as trite, banal, and obvious as those of any musical I’ve ever seen in New York. The 14-member cast, directed and choreographed by Mark Blowers, works hard to pump life into the amateurish material. And I applaud them for that.   

The program says that Michael Antin, the author of this show (produced by John Lant), is a retired tax lawyer. Anton has come up with a good idea for a show; he simply does not seem to have the needed gifts as a librettist and songwriter to make the story flow, or to capture our imaginations. The action, the program tells us, takes place from June of 1932 to June of 1933 in Berlin. The basic storyline (with some echoes, at times, of the much more artfully crafted Cabaret and The Prince and the Showgirl) is interesting: an upper-class German fellow—whose family dislikes Hitler but does not, at first, fully comprehend the threat that he poses—falls in love with a cabaret star who happens to be Jewish. But the slow-moving piece does not really work either as entertainment (because of the shortcomings in the writing) or as education (because historic liberties are taken).

Initially, I thought I would not write a review of this show at all as the writing is so far below New York standards, I was tempted to simply not cover the show. However, a few performers—new to me—were so effective, despite the material, I want to call attention to their good work. They merit recognition.

The show’s star, a recent AMDA grad named Amy Londyn, has presence, she sings engagingly and with a winning, winsome charm. Hers is a most auspicious debut performance, and I’m going to remember her name. I warmed, too, to Clint Hromsco, who was very likable as her leading man. And Matt Mitchell, in a supporting role as an earnest German aristocrat putting his life on the line to oppose Hitler, made every moment on stage count. His fine, true musical theater voice was a joy to hear. I give director Blowers credit for finding and casting such promising newcomers. I look forward to seeing more of their work.  

Antin has written everything in the score, except for the famed “Lili Marlene,” which is sung appealingly (twice) by Londyn. That song is so far superior to all the others in the show —I loved hearing it —that it makes the others seem even weaker.  Oddly—and, again, amateurishly—the program does not credit the authors of the number. Written by Hans Leip (original German lyrics), Ronnie Connor (English lyrics), and Norbert Schultze (music), it was a great hit in both Germany and the U.S. during World War II.

“Lili Marlene” was, of course, one of Marlene Dietrich’s signature numbers.  But it did not yet exist during the period in which the musical is set. And yet the play would have us believe that the song had already been around for years, and had been taught to the supposed cabaret star by Dietrich herself. I had a hard time swallowing that. It’s not a Weimar-era creation. It evokes the later war years. If you’re going to throw something so iconic  into a score, you need to use it wisely. 

There are also discussions of horrors taking place at Dachau. But that’s a bit anachronistic, too. The concentration camp horrors, by and large, became known after the period depicted. I could overlook such historical fuzziness if the show itself were powerfully entertaining. But it does not pack much of a punch.

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Category: Musical Theatre Reviews, New York City, New York City Musical Theatre Reviews, Off-Broadway Reviews, Regional

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