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April 3, 2017:

Lili Marlene reviewed by Rob Stevens

“Lili Marlene” was a three verse poem in German written by Hans Leip in 1915. Two verses were added in 1937 and it also became known as “The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch.” It was not set to music until 1938 and was first recorded in 1939. It was translated into English and first recorded in that language in 1942. It became a favorite of soldiers, both German and Allied, during WW II, the most famous recording being by film star Marlene Dietrich. The Nazi party opened their first concentration camp in Dachau in March 1933 and it was used primarily for imprisonment of political opponents, mostly members of the Communist party. It was never really used as an extermination camp; most of those were located outside Germany. The Nazi SS didn’t begin sending Jews to camps until 1934 and the mass exterminations really began in 1941 with the gas chambers. As Jack Webb used to say on TV’s Dragnet, these are the facts, Ma’am. Writer/composer Michael Antin has used alternative facts or at least subverted history for the creation of his original musical love story Lili Marlene at Write Act Repertory. He sets the action of his play in Berlin from June 1932 to June 1933. Famous cabaret singer Rosie Penn was rescued from an orphanage by Ms. Dietrich whose only request was that she finish each of her performances by singing “Lili Marlene.” Rosie attracts the attention of Count Hans Wilhelm van Kleister Graff (AKA Willi) and they become lovers, even though she is Jewish. Willi works in the passport office and is busy trying to get all the scientific and cultural Jews safely out of the country. His brother-in-law works for the government health department and is soon tasked with creating death camps. Many writers fudge on true life facts to tell their stories but when the result is such a poorly told tale as Lili Marlene, total fiction would have been better. The final product comes across as a very crude attempt to recreate the classic Cabaret. There is even a somewhat decadent (though decidedly lesbian) hostess at Rosie’s club. There are 21 musical numbers and even more scene changes with plenty of unnecessary furniture moving on the tiny stage of the Brickhouse Theatre. The opening number “Fill My Stein with Beer” has a catchy tune and there are a couple of ballads that have a nice melody, but most of the songs would be better left unsung. They are basically bad dialogue set to music, not as recitative but as full out songs. The lyrics are cringe worthy as are some of the vocal notes heard. This is one of those shows where every character gets a song to sing whether they needed one or not. The non-musical scenes are short, choppy and clumsily directed by Mark Blowers and poorly acted by the cast who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty. The show runs nearly two hours without an intermission so there is no escape. Ms. Dietrich would not be amused. Consider yourself warned.

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Write Act Repertory, 10950 Peach Grove St. in North Hollywood. 800-838-3006 ext. 1.

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