Here Lies Jenny
The Zipper Theatre
336 West 37 Street
New York, NY
Presented by Maria Di Dia, Kathryn Frawley, Hugh Hayes, Martin Platt and
The Zipper Theatre with Green Moon Gang.
Music by Kurt Weill
Lyrics by Bertrolt Brecht, Roger Fernay, Ira Gershwin, Jehuda Halevi, Langston
Hughes, Alan Jay Lerner, Maurice Margre, Ogden Nash, Franz Werfer & Kurt
Starring Bebe Neuwirth with Gregory Butler, Ed Dixon, Shawn Emamjomeh
Set Design by Neil Patel
Lighting Design by Frances Aronson
Costume Design by Kaye Voyce
Sound Design by Tony Meola
Marketing by HHC Marketing
Press Representative: Barlow.Hartman
Stage Management: Adam Grosswirth
Arrangements and Incidental Music: Jeff Saver & Joe Thalken
Additional Arrangements: Chris Fenwick
Music Direction & Supervision: Leslie Stifelman
Choreography by Ann Reinking
Conceived and Directed by Roger Rees
Jennifer E. Wesnousky
June 18, 2004
The entrance to The Zipper, a cozy-little well-kept secret situated in the Theater District on 37th between 8th and 9th, is a swanky little bar to which one initially asks oneself if he or she might, on some other night, return for a drink. Hence, Here Lies Jenny, the show currently hosted there, becomes instantly yet another one of those new- New York experiences, accentuated further when the patron is escorted into one of the approximately 200 genuine bucket seats- complete with seatbelts. One cannot help but to wonder, then, if it is bound to be a bumpy night.
Indeed, Here Lies Jenny, takes both its namesake, played by Bebe Neuwirth, and the audience, on a bumpy emotional trip. As the performance is comprised of twenty of composer Kurt Weill's tunes from such shows as Three Penny Opera, the audience member who attempts to discern a concrete storyline may get quite confused, struggling to decipher which of the songs' sagas actually occurred in Jenny's life. Yet, as the show goes on, it becomes apparent the extent to which Jenny is about far more than events. The show succeeds not only in revealing one woman's reflection upon the events of her past, but in allowing the audience to experience their emotional repercussions in the present.
As the show opens, the burly barkeeper, George (Ed Dixon) is center stage in Neil Patel's stark setting which, as opposed to the Zipper's real bar, has been made to look like a dive bar to the extreme. The stunning purity of Dixon's voice in the opening song shocks, standing out in contrast to his slovenly appearance. His melody is interrupted by the entry of Jim and John (Greg Butler and Shawn Emamjomeh, respectively), two, shaved-headed, scruffy-looking fellows with some of the most impressive biceps that a theatergoer (or anyone else, for that matter) may ever encounter. The pair, who resemble recent prison escapees, add an instant edge by mock boxing-with one another in the midst of the barkeeper's sweet song.
Then comes the entrance of Bebe Neuwirth's defeated-looking Jenny, dressed down in a drab coat and made up to look as if she isn't. It is instantly obvious, however, that Ms. Neuwirth's persona and presence shine brightly through any attempts at dullness. As the men sing a glum-sounding German tune, Jenny steals the stage with a solemn song stating that she "has forgotten her lyrics", alluding to a past dignity which she seems to have lost.
In another tune (as the program lists the songs in alphabetical order rather in the order in which they are performed, it is difficult for someone unfamiliar with Weill's work to distinguish between all of them), Jenny's song takes on a comic touch as she boasts about her ability to maintain herself "perpendicular," despite a slew of male admirers. However, Jenny turns forlorn when she admits to having ended up "not so perpendicular" as she had hoped, and this notion of shattered self-respect is further emphasized when a laughing Jim and John rob Jenny. As she switches genuinely from triumphant to troubled, her eyes shining tearfully, Neuwirth's ability to spontaneously muster emotion is riveting.
The symbolism of a woman's reflection upon her life and self is not lost on the audience when George holds up a tray for Jenny to ponder her reflection. It is amazing then, as she applies it, what a little lipstick can do as her persona turns alive and rife with sexual energy. Of course, her stripping down to a negligee right and there then does not hurt either. Neuwirth's rendition of The Saga of Jenny at this juncture is definitely one of the show's high points and by far the production's most memorable tune. It speaks of a woman's checkered past, including many of the forays into which her inability to make up her mind have led her. Still, this piece marks a transition from the character left shattered at the end of the prior piece, and to witness the renewal of Jenny's sense of self proves refreshing.
Neuwirth's performance is, in fact, refreshing all-around. While the supporting cast, including Jim; John; George and The Piano Player (Chris Fenwick sitting in for Leslie Stifelman who normally plays the role), accompany her song and dance amiably throughout the show, the show is clearly about Neuwirth's Jenny. She is clean and crisp, from each movement of her lithe little body to each perfectly-executed note, even when she sings in seemingly flawlessly accented German or French. Is there anything which Ms. Neuwirth cannot do? Her lifetime of dance training becomes evident from the first point of her beautiful feet as Anne Reinking's choreography makes its debut with the two buffed buffoons lifting Jenny overhead in a series of imaginative lifts.
Despite the limitations of both a small cast and venue, Reinking demonstrates her choreographic range as the characters burst into moves reminiscent of African Step Dancing, slapping various body parts, clapping and stomping. Later, the boys engage Jenny in an Argentine Tango-inspired spin around the stage, switching off as her lead. The mood here seems sensual yet respectful, particularly in light of the many disheartening experiences which Jenny seems to have had throughout the years with men.
At one point, Jenny uses her lipstick to cross out the broken heart which George has drawn onto the mirror, showing her resolve to reflect upon, and yet overcome, the heartbreaks of her past. And yet, the next song, perhaps the production's most melancholy, reverts to a sad misogynistic vein as Jenny sings of an abusive, loveless man who she cannot help but to continue to love with longing.
As Here Lies Jenny portrays a woman who often feels as if something inside her has died, the title could be interpreted as an apt reference to Jenny's death in life. But, Jenny also demonstrates constantly the extent to which she is alive singing, in Susan's Song, about a lady who, in finding her existence unbearable, longs to sleep eternally in order to dream about "the way life should be." Upon sleeping, though, the woman discovers that the life of her dreams is that which she already possesses. And so, perhaps, does Jenny, who over the course of seventy minutes, lies down to bare her soul- both to the audience and to herself.
Here Lies Jenny closes with a more upbeat reprise of Old Bilbao than the version which opens the show. Despite asking, "Why does it haunt us so?," it feels as if the cast has come to terms with something, particularly after Jenny re-dons her shabby coat to exit the venue with a slight smile. Jenny parts with a particularly poignant last line: " I don't know if it would have brought you joy or grief, but it was fantastic". Although the production is, at times, both dark and incoherent, this line brings a lot to light. For, in referring both to the show and to our lives, one just might realize the extent to which we all have questionable pasts and presents, which like Here Lies Jenny, can be construed to seem as "fantastic" as they are open to interpretation.
Here Lies Jenny is playing at least through July 24, 2004. Get your tickets now.