KERRY FORD DELIVERS A FULL MOON
By Robert Sokol
If you cringe at the prospect of a Kurt Weill evening, see it
as a potentially dreary procession of Teutonic fraus lamenting
a hard knock life soured by love's labors lost, let Anne Kerry
Ford wipe away your fears. In Bilbao Moon, the versatile singer-actress
delves deeply and gives generously of the many sides of Weill.
For sure, there is some woeful Weill, but in Kerry Ford's expert
hands you also meet the wistful, worshipful and even wacky Weill!
Setting aside, but with much respect, the graceful piano and
vocal accompaniment of the very talented John Boswell and the
simmering and shimmering duet contributions of Brian Lane Green,
it is solidly Kerry Ford's show. Yet to call it a one-woman
show is misleading. Bilbao Moon is a decidedly and delightfully
theatrical hybrid of musical, concert and lyrical lecture presented
by the most insouciant of professors.
It is evident from the first notes that Kerry Ford is a fine
singer. What unveils with each successive song is her depth
and range as an actress. With the shrug of a shawl from her
slim shoulder, she transforms from the embittered slattern of
"Surabaya Johnny" to the urgently longing lover of
"Speak Low" from One Touch of Venus. The shift - one
of many throughout the evening - is compelling, effective, complete
and seemingly effortless.
A failing of so many composer concerts is over-earnest production
poorly abetted by stilted narrative. Bilbao Moon avoids all
these pitfalls. Kerry Ford works a spare set with a few defined
playing areas and uses the space fluidly and expertly, creating
scenes that flow easily into each other. From the far end of
the piano, she engages in roguish banter with Boswell and then
turns, hands stretched behind her, and leans forward into the
prow of a wistful "My Ship," one of Weill's loveliest
melodies. You can almost see the breeze ruffle her russet curls.
When Kerry Ford does break the fourth wall to address her audience,
it is with an infectious excitement to share what she knows
from almost a decade of absorbing and kneading Weill's body
of work into its present form.
Wacky Weill, you ask? Look no further than "The Song of
the Rhineland" or, better yet, the tongue-twisting "Tschaikowsky,"
written for Lady in the Dark, and both delivered here with aplomb.
Contrast these to the hymn-like optimism of "Lost in the
Stars," sung by Kerry Ford with faith-filled simplicity,
and those less familiar with the composer can start to see the
range of a man who in a few short decades - he died at 50 in
1950 after fleeing the Nazi regime - created a most diverse
legacy of operas, popular song, and Broadway and Hollywood musicals.
Weill's early success with Bertolt Brecht, The Threepenny Opera,
remains his most persistent calling card. While many can whistle
a bop-time Bobby Darin version of "Mack the Knife,"
few realize that the song originated in a Weimar-era piece originally
titled Die Dreigroschenoper. Kerry Ford passes on this song,
but gives the show its due with an appropriately cynical "Pirate
Jenny" and the saucily pragmatic "Tango-Ballad,"
the latter with Lane Green.
There is no moment in the evening that drags. Both happily familiar
and compelling-but-obscure songs cascade forth. Kerry Ford ends
the evening with "Listen To My Song" - a haunting
and optimistic lullaby to mankind that is light years away from
the dark and tortured world so commonly ascribed to Weill. The
performance at 142 Throckmorton in Mill Valley was a one-night
jewel to be savored. One can only hope Kerry Ford and company
will return to the Bay Area for a more extended engagement.
Until then, there is weill, her most excellent 2006 recording
which give a tantalizing taste of the jam and spice paradise
of music in her hold.