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
June 18, 2004
Here Lies Jenny may be a cabaret review built out of Kurt Weill's music performed by the Broadway powerhouse Bebe Neuwirth and friends, but fundamentally this show is a sense of place opera. There is plenty of movement, and even if only a small percentage of that movement is true dance, the dance they do is expertly performed within choreography that amplifies the characters being portrayed.
This show does not have a true plot. Even so, the characters exhibit both coherence and growth over the course of the seventy minutes. The show is built on a rising inflected arc that starts out pale and beaten down and ends bright and confident. I am convinced that watching a lot of non-narrative dance performances is good training to appreciate the kind of tidal movement of gestalt that is the root source of this show's meaning.
This show is an opera in the sense that the actors sing non-stop with essentially no spoken dialogue. The singing is powerful and resonant most of the time. Bebe Neuwirth's voice was a little quiet at the start of the show, but this was a perfect fit with the initial state of her character. She also was wearing make-up that made her look pale and clothing that made her look bedraggled. She made her initial entrance on stage in an unassuming manner. She is clearly an actor who knows how to use all of her instrument, her voice and her body, in a full range.
The show has an upward arc. Bebe's character gains in confidence. As she gains in confidence, her voice fills out. The lights brighten. She transforms from bedraggled to glamorous with nothing more than a little lipstick, attitude and lighting in full view of the audience. She was further transformed during The Tale of the Soldier's Wife as she dressed herself in the fancy clothing sent to her by her absent husband from ports of call around the world, slowly rising in energy and elegance until brought low by the final item: a black veil enveloping a folded flag signifying her husband's death.
This show is mostly about the fine singing framed by a gritty gem of a setting. The dance numbers, while few, are worth seeing. Bebe moves well while singing at an old-style microphone (which, fortunately, she knows how to use without letting the mike block her face): her swiveling steps were centered. She expertly pointed her feet wearing flexible shoes. She had three dance partners. Two of them were extremely muscled guys who hoisted her into the air in a series of lifts, including one smooth aerial that ended in a high lift. (I have a feeling that Bebe decided to do this show in part so she could get twirled around on the tall shoulders of a couple of hunks, and who can blame her?)
Bebe's character was clearly a dancer, not just because of the way she could be comfortably balanced in a ta-da pose on top of a guy's shoulders, but because she brought a spare pair of shoes. In an act of gallantry not normally seen, the two muscled guys helped her change into these high heeled shoes.
There were two Tango numbers. The first number was relatively short, but even those few Tango steps were enough to correctly establish the context of the whorehouse referenced in the song's lyrics. Bebe managed to dance Tango without either foot being on the ground. This signature image - a very strong hold suggesting complete dependence - reenforced the message of the song. There were also some nice fans in this number.
Don't Get Soft was another number with character movement (plus much rhythmic thigh and stomach slapping). Each actor had his or her own variation on the movement theme. The combined effect turned a set of single movement ideas into a energetic point counter-point that royally entertained the audience. The actors were clearly having fun and were able to communicate that to the audience.
The show's extended Tango number began with Bebe dancing with one of the muscled guys using a full body contact hold. The legwork was authentic, with many elegant adornments (also known as "dibujo" - a small movement where the dancer draws circles and other patterns with her toe). I especially like the way that the character of the dance changed with each partner. When Bebe danced with her second partner (the other muscled guy), the dancing took on some Flamenco overtones: foot stamping, strong curved extension that makes one think of a Toreodor. When Bebe danced with her third partner, the bar keeper, they used a separated social hold. Since the bar keeper's character is presented as Bebe's protector, this hold was a good choice to signal that he respects her space. In addition to the variations in the holds used, the arm styling also varied with each partner. For instance, the bar keeper used a more curved arm styling than the muscle guys, who, in turn were more likely to use that upper arm held out parallel to the floor with a ninety degree bend up at the elbow sometimes hand clenched in a fist I'm a tough guy arm styling that is often used in Tango choreography and social milongas. Bebe was carried across the stage by the two muscled guys in a cross attitude at one point during this number. I first saw this type of move done in Swango. There it was done by professional Tango dancers in service to a narrative. Here it was done by Broadway dancers in service to a mood. They were both quite effective. The number ended with an extended passage where Bebe, the two hunks and the barkeep exchanged partners with flowing frequency that looked very much like a rueda.
At the end of the show, Bebe does a reprise of Old Bilbao, stamping her foot to accelerate the rhythm and the emotion.
By the end of the show, place, person and time have been woven together in an upward transformation. Fittingly, Bebe exits up the stairs in a bright, bright light.
Here Lies Jenny is a rare opportunity to see world class performers up close. The Zipper Theatre is unusual because you can take your drink into the theatre, and at least half the seats are old car seats: comfortable but different enough to make even a jaded New Yorker sit up and take notice. The theatre was mostly sold out. No matter which reason you choose (impassioned and articulate singing in English, seductive singing by an attractive woman in French, ominous singing by an older male beer connoisseur in German, visually searing dance, muscled hunks, or two from column A plus a glass of wine), so long as you can make an 11 pm curtain and can have a willing suspension of narrative, you will enjoy this show.
Here Lies Jenny is playing at least through July 24, 2004. Get your tickets now.