Tonight: Lola Blau

March 16, 2009
by Gwen Orel

Tonight Lola BlauAs Lola Blau, a Jewish chanteuse from Vienna who rides out World War II in America, Anna Krämer is lovable. Her husky, vulnerable speaking voice morphs into a clear soprano with graceful period style when she sings. She adds tenderness to the most satirical of lyrics (translated from the German by Don White). Even Krämer's German accent adds to a sense of the character as Dietrich manqué. German composer-lyricist George Kreisler's 1971 one-woman-plus-speaking-accompanist show has never had a stateside production before, though it ran in Germany and Israel. Smoothly directed by Dick Top, and supported by portly pianist (and excellent comic actor) Joe Völker, it is a touching entertainment.

The show opens as Lola peruses old photo albums, intoning a poem/song about "silent voices making silent noises." We then flash back to 1938, where Lola, excited about an upcoming stage appearance, sings "No. 1 Theatre Street." Disturbing phone calls from an uncle and from her lover, Leo, leaving Czechoslovakia and Austria, respectively, interrupt her. Her landlady (Völker) delivers a telegram canceling her appearance, and a yellow star with the word Jude falls out of it. "That's life," Lola croons to the star. Unexpectedly, her visa to the United States is approved, leading to a gorgeous should-be standard, "Miracles Can Happen."

Once Lola is en route to America, the show seems an excuse to string songs together. "Sex Is a Wonderful Habit," for which Lola is costumed as a lecturer in evening gown, is delicious but has no connection to the story. Only after Lola returns to Austria to reunite with Leo and sings "Mrs. Schmidt," accusing the Austrians of looking the other way, does the show's form return. When Leo is attacked for being Jewish, Lola realizes that nothing has changed. Her observations about guilt and hypocrisy are less trenchant (because less surprising) now than in 1971. Still, Krämer's delivery of Kreisler's lovely songs turns Lola Blau into a star.

Presented by and at La MaMa E.T.C.,

74A E. Fourth St., NYC.

March 13–22. Fri. and Sat., 10 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.

(212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, Theater Mania, or La MaMa.