Wednesday, February 9, 2011

REVIEW: Veronika, der Lenz ist da (Berlin) by the Berlin Comedian Harmonists

Komödie am Kurfürstendamm (Berlin), Friday February 4

How does one enjoys a play in German even if one's German was dire? Well, make sure that there is a lot of fabulous singing in it.

I didn't have much choice actually. I ordered tickets for Die Lustige Witwe, thinking that it was Franz Lehar's operetta. In fact, in the website, it even showed the name and picture of Franz Lehar (though I have to admit that the copy beside it did clearly contradict my assumption). So when I was in Berlin and happened to pass by Theater am Kurfürstendamm, I checked whether I can have a refund. Instead, the theatre offered me Veronika, der Lenz ist da. Upon seeing the name Comedian Harmonists, I knew I will be better off with Veronika than the Widow!

I was pleasantly surprised that I actually quite enjoyed it. The Comedian Harmonists is an all-male German close harmony ensemble that performed between 1928 and 1934 as one of the most successful musical groups in Europe before World War II and Veronika, der Lenz ist da was one of their famous songs. I came to know the name Comedian Harmonists through my great love for group a capella music; and the British a capella group The King's Singers have released a tribute-album to the Comedian Harmonists. Guess what? The first track in the album was none other than Veronika, der Lenz ist da.

The play gave a "more or less" portrayal of how the group started, their auditions, their fame and also their struggle during the Nazi period (3 of the 6-member group were either Jewish or of Jewish descent). The play premiered on December 19 1997 at the Komödie am Kurfürstendamm (Berlin) and has since played throughout Germany. From the hundreds of artists who auditioned for the play came the new group, The Berlin Comedian Harmonists. Aside from the group, there was also an actor who took the various roles from impressario to Nazi officer.

It was not very difficult to understand what was happening on stage even if one doesn't understand German. Of course it does help to know a little bit about the group. The best part of the play was the singing. Each member of the of group was distinct in personality yet integrated harmoniously into a cohesive ensemble. The production was simple and straightforward yet extremely effective. It also paced in a rhythm that kept the story and the songs interspersed throughout the performance.
Veronika, der Lenz ist da - Die Comedian Harmonists
Premiered in 1997, January 21 to February 20 at Komödie am Kurfürstendamm

Creative Team:
Director - Martin Woelffer
Stage - Tom Presting
Costumes - Gerhard Kropp

Ari - Holger Off
Erich - Olaf Drauschke
Roman - Ralf Steinhagen
Harry - Philipp Seibert
Robert - Wolfgang Höltzel
Erwin - Horst Maria Merz
Hans and other roles - Karl Ernst Horbol

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