Wednesday, March 10, 1999
Jazz singer Matassa at home in I'm a Stranger Here Myself
by Joe Adcock, Seattle
Post-Intelligencer theater critic
Of all the 20th century's musical geniuses, none has been more adaptable
than Kurt Weill.
You want mushy? Weill tunes pared with Ira Gershwin lyrics leave nothing
to be desired in the mushiness department. Quirky? Try Weill music plus
Langston Hughes words. Bittersweet? Take a Weill score and add verses
by Maxwell Anderson.
And for wild Weill, who could ask for anything more than Weill's collaborations
with the bad boy of modern German theater, Bertolt Brecht.
Now, enter the performers. Bette Midler, The Doors, Lou Reed, Diane
Schuur, Tom Waits and Sting have all demonstrated the chameleon versatility
of Weill songs.
Adding a new facet to the famous Weill adaptability is jazz singer Greta
Matassa in her current show at the Cabaret de Paris. The production
is called "I'm a Stranger Here Myself." And at first it does
indeed seem as if Matassa is a stranger to the Weill idiom.
She's so wiggly-wriggly in her stage presence. She's so lighthearted
and humorous. Her musicianship is so meticulous. Her voice is so lovely.
Her stylings are so precise and detailed.
Can Weill survive this artistic identity? For many of us, the consummate
and ultimate Weill stylist was his wife, Lotte Lenya. Lenya's stage
presence had a sinister stillness. Her humor was bitter. Her musicianship
was proto-punk. Her voice was harsh. Her stylings seemed desperate and
When Matassa starts in on a song like "Surabaya Johnny," a
song that for some of us has Lenya's voice prints all over it, the initial
effect is unnerving. Oh no, she's getting it all wrong! But with insistent
authority, Matassa wrestles the song away from Lenya. She gives it a
goofy, sly detachment that seems entirely apt.
Same goes for other famously bitter Weill/Brecht numbers like "Alabama
Song," "Ballad of Dependency," "Tango Ballad"
and "Solomon's Song." Who needs sinister, harsh, desperate?
Light and lovely irony offer an interesting variation on the orthodox
Less familiar work doesn't need to be wrestled away from the vocal clutches
of previous artists. "Lullabye," a celebration of scandalous
behavior from the Weill/Hughes work. "Street Scene" is fresh
and wacky. "This is New," from the Weill/Gershwin "Lady
in the Dark," is pure warbling romance.
The title song, "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," is from Weill's
1943 collaboration with Ogden Nash, "One Touch of Venus."
It is all snickering lasciviousness.
Matassa gets deft musical backing from Joe Baque, piano, and Ken Olendorf,
accordion. Also deft is the staging by David Koch and lighting by Diane
Matassa and company prove to be right at home, in their own peculiar
way, with "I'm a Stranger Here Myself."