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Smooth sailing for Public Theatre

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'Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill' The Public Theatre Sept. 24 The Public Theatre of Little Rock began its 2005-06 season with “Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill,” a voyage through the German composer’s musical catalog. And, while the remnants of Hurricane Rita rumbled through the city during the Saturday show, it was smooth sailing for the solid cast, which belted out Weill’s tunes with verve. The show, which continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 616 Center St., sails briskly through 35 Weill tunes, including “Alabama Song,” “My Ship” and, of course, “Mack the Knife” from “The Threepenny Opera,” recently produced by another Little Rock community theater group, the Weekend Theater. Weill, who fled Nazi Germany in 1933 after the success of “The Threepenny Opera,” wound up in New York City in 1935 and wrote for Broadway, shaping the modern American opera and influencing generations of musical performers and pop singers. His American theater works include “Lady in the Dark,” “Street Scene,” “Love Life” and “Mahogany,” and his songs have been performed by everyone from The Doors and Tim Curry to Elvis Costello and Bryan Ferry. While maybe not as well known as the latter bunch, the five-member cast –- Patty Peglow-Airoldi, Fran Austin, Michael Davis, Kelley Ponder and James Smith -– had talent to burn and an obvious love for the material. Davis, a veteran dancer and musical performer, narrated the production, authoritatively dropping bits of Weill’s biography among songs. A classic Broadway actor’s actor, he turned in some fine performances, particularly during Weill’s famous lament for May-December romances, “September Song” from “Knickerbocker Holiday.” Paired with Smith, Davis was even better, kicking the production into gear with the playful “Bilbao Song.” Davis, meanwhile, remained on point throughout the production, culminating in a heartbreaking rendition of “Lonely House” from “Street Scene” during the closing moments of the evening. Ponder, who has performed with operas in Dallas and Knoxville, Tenn., among others, filled the theater with classically trained vocals, perhaps the best during “My Ship” from “Lady in the Dark.” Her duet with Peglow-Airoldi, “Lullaby” from “Street Scene,” was another high point. Musical director Charles Sanchez and pianist Rebecca Goins provided steady musical accompaniment that showcased the genius of Weill’s work without overwhelming the performers. And the spare set and lighting design allowed the imagination to easily shift among the variety of Weill’s settings.

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