Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"Tonight: Lola Blau"
La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, Manhattan
“Tonight: Lola Blau” is one more Holocaust tale, but told in cabaret style. Performer/solo artist Anna Kramer has taken on the persona of Blau, making it her signature part, a piece which she has performed in numerous overseas festivals. And now Kramer has brought the one-woman show to New York. With the original German version translated into English (courtesy of Don White), Kramer is performing off-Broadway at LaMama Experimental Theatre Club.
Who was Lola Blau? Certainly her story is worth hearing—particularly if one thinks European anti-Semitism died with the defeat of the Nazis. Blau was a rising Dietrich-type cabaret singer before the Nazi annexation of Austria. But because of her Jewish heritage (her mother was Jewish), she was forced to flee Austria. Coming to the United States, she survived unhappily in second-rate gigs. Finally, returning with enthusiasm to post-war Austria, she discovered nothing had changed. Anti-Semitism was still rampant, and she could not reactivate her once-promising career.
Such a story is potentially powerful, but does it work as Kramer offers it up to American audiences? With affecting music written and composed by George Kreisler, “Tonight: Lola Blau” has every reason to succeed.
But somehow the show falls flat on its face. It’s hard to understand why “Tonight: Lola Blau” has been so popular with overseas audiences (at least according to the news releases). Can it be that European audiences are less discriminating? Or were those European viewers trying to assuage their guilt over war atrocities during the Nazi regime?
Kramer has a pleasing voice, but she is certainly no Dietrich, no Ute Lemper, no Lotte Lenya (bringing to mind performers who might have made more of “Tonight: Lola Blau”). And, given the historic information, she is apparently no Lola Blau.
Most seriously, though Kreisler’s music is haunting, the tale itself falters. Perhaps because the material never rises to the challenge of the theme. Blau’s early days are rendered faithfully, but her deeply disappointing American experience is never spelled out. Kramer does several impersonations, presumably in her American period, which are tiresome and amateurish. What are these all about? Are these meant to be cabaret-goers who watched her shows, or parts she was forced to play? And, finally, her return to Austria does not deliver the punch, with its tragic implications, that it should.
All told, “Tonight: Lola Blau” never delivers on its promise. Too bad, because Blau’s story is well worth telling, and Americans need to hear it.
-- Irene Backalenick
Mar. 17, 2009