Truth Is A Cabaret
by Ted Merwin
Can art uncover the truths about ourselves that we most want to ignore? In Georg Kreisler’s one-woman show, “Tonight: Lola Blau,” which opens next Friday night at La MaMa, the eponymous Viennese cabaret singer, played by Anna Kramer, flees the Nazis and seeks refuge in New York.
Lola ends up performing in seedy nightclubs and waiting until she can return to her homeland. But when she finally goes back after the war, she finds that few are even willing to admit to the genocide that the Nazis perpetrated. Her sensational return concert electrifies the audience, even as she prods them to see themselves as collaborators with Hitler rather than his innocent victims.
Directed by the Dutch theater artist Dick Top, “Lola Blau” was first composed in 1971. It has been a sensation, with productions in Hamburg, Berlin, England and Israel. Reviewing the 1995 British production for What’s On, critic Graham Hassell wrote that the musical found an “appreciative audience, who like me, discovered new and sad facts about post war anti-Semitism and denial or ignorance of the Holocaust...”
The rousing score for “Lola Blau” is a set of about 20 sardonic Kurt Weill-type songs, mixed with familiar American numbers like “The Good Ship Lollypop” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” with lyrics translated by Don White. Kramer has performed the part at international theater festivals in Amsterdam, Aruba and the Ivory Coast. A newspaper in Mannheim called her a “Vamp mit Witz” (vamp with wit) for her portrayals of Blau and real-life singer Edith Piaf.
Kreisler’s own life story parallels that of his character; he fled Austria before the Second World War and came to the United States, where he ended up doing anti-Nazi intelligence work and translating at the Nuremberg trials. He returned to Austria in 1955.
Top noted that the younger generation of Western Europeans is still coping with the long shadow of the Holocaust. “Their parents projected this silence on them,” he reflected. “Now they’re curious about their country’s past.” What makes the musical especially appealing, he said, is its mixture of sly, sarcastic humor with doses of melancholy. “By confronting the Holocaust indirectly,” he explained, “the musical is able to show that the postwar mentality was a continuation of what came before, and that anti-Semitism will never really disappear.”
But Kreisler described the show’s message differently. Even as Lola becomes “sadder, wiser and more politically aware,” he said, the audience is obliged to fight back a sense of hopelessness. “You leave the theater telling yourself not to be hopeless,” he said. “There is always reason for hope.”
“Tonight: Lola Blau” runs March 13-22 at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A E. Fourth St. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 10 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 5:30 p.m. For tickets, $15, call the box office at (212) 475-7710 or visit www.lamama.org.