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Sharpen Up Your Knife, Mackie!

Is cabaret music ugly? Should it be unpleasant? These were questions raised by Washington Musica Viva's Sex Appeal program that took place on June 18, 2008, at DC's Busboys and Poets. The Dresser stands scratching her head because, generally speaking, she enjoys the clever but raunchy turns of this kind of music.

The program included songs by cabaret greats: Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Friedrich Hollaender. It also included new cabaret music by sax man composer Charley Gerard based on the lyrics of Judith Weinstock. The musical ensemble included: Clea Nemetz,home3121183665440.jpg mezzo; Charley Gerard, composer arranger, alto saxophone; John Jensen, trombone; John O'Brien, banjo; and Carl Banner, piano. Featured were three songs by Hollaender: "Sex Appeal," "Take it off Petronella," and "Falling in Love Again," the song from The Blue Angel made famous by Marlene Dietrich. While the Dresser grooved on the moves and throaty voice of Clea Nemetz, the musical accompaniment seemed thin (not ugly) and spiritless. The Dresser was told that Busboys, for whatever reason, didn't allow the musicians time for a sound check and so musical balance didn't happen.

Perhaps this is unfair, but in the Dresser's experience the touchstone for cabaret is The Three Penny Opera by Kurt Weill with libretto by Bertolt Brecht. And yes, the WMV program included "Mack the Knife," the most well known song from The Three Penny Opera and no, Clea Nemetz sounded nothing like Lotte Lenya or Ute Lemper. Nemetz was squeaky clean sexy in her English and interesting to watch, but she didn't have that German cabaret edge with the guttural rolls of the Rs and that insane vibrato that causes audience to scoot up on their seat and wonder what this singer would be like in bed. Oops, the Dresser can't help it if the raunch slips out. And yes, the Dresser likes a squonky sax and 'bone with the strumming of the banjo and the beating of the ivories but she really missed a bass to ground the overall sound.

The second half of the program featured mostly original songs by Gerard and Weinstock. The Dresser's favorite was "I Hate My Ex" but in truth this piece sounded like contemporary opera and not cabaret. So the Dresser thinks Charley Gerard and Carl Banner should put their heads back together and do up another program like The Weary Blues, which was a smash hit at Busboys.

In a meditation on perfection, Bryan Penberthy looks at the world of the artist in the nightclub in his poem "Expatriatetown."


Every building a café, a nightclub,
both, languid beauties tonguing the lips of
cappuccino cups, feeling if it's cool
enough to sip. Every statue is a
writer you've gotten drunk with, a painter
you've laid, carved by a sculptor who respects
you. Everyone here has read all your books--
even the bad ones--and loved every phrase.
Every sandwich you order is perfect--
the Reubens not soggy, the Romaine crisp.

Nights are opiate in their languor--warm,
narcotic. Every woman adores you.
The violinist at every café
plays your favorite songs, sad ones, music
to make your life seem a good decision.
Luckily, bars never run out of wine,
low conversation, and exotic brands
of cigarette. The only province you
can't leave is the country of suspicion.

The papers have it right: celebrity
is the only politics. Happily,
your reputation has grown mildly
comfortable. You are writing a great
novel, an epic about the war years,
which you can't seem to recall in any
great detail anymore--not in this town.

Bryan Penberthy
From Lucktown

Copyright © 2007 by Bryan Penberthy


Comments (1)

Where does Karren find the perfect poem every time to punctuate the article?

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 20, 2008 4:24 PM.

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