Review: ‘Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel’ finds its niche on pier

Megan Rippey, left, Sol Mason, Paul Sand and Shay Astar in "Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel."
(Agi Magyeri)

Weimar cabaret meets Pacifica in “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel,” carving a weirdly effective niche for itself on the Santa Monica Pier. This dark-tinged program of deathless songs from the beloved composer takes environmental theater to a highly specialized place.

Literally, since the West End Theatre is a reconfigured observation deck perched above Mariasol Restaurant at the end of the landmark pier. In a long, narrow room that suggests a supine rathskeller, four idiomatic performers and a keen piano-and-strings combo attack nine familiar numbers with a mix of Sprechstimme and moxie that is often evocative and arresting.

Shay Astar opens with “Mack the Knife,” delivered with a voice plangent and edgy at once, much like her riveting mid-show “Surabaya Johnny.” Slender-voiced Megan Rippey brings a contrasting, precisely correct detachment to “The Barbara Song” and “Pirate Jenny.”

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Ostensible narrator Sol Mason turns “The Insufficiency of Human Behavior” (here called simply “The Luck Song”) into a saucy thematic embodiment, and creator-director Paul Sand plays his single-red-gloved Macheath figure with aptly restrained savagery.

Expert music director Michael Roth sometimes stretches tempos to the breaking point, and not all choral additions have the same Swingle Singers-like aplomb. Certain less-than-standard songs from the canon might support the ambience even more -- “Sailor’s Tango” and “The Song of the Liquor Dealer” spring to mind -- while the uneasy sightlines give new meaning to lyricist Bertolt Brecht’s distancing effect; a spatial rethink is advisable.

Still, fans of the material may well find this sui generis item rewarding. It’s certainly a promising initial attraction, unlike anything else afloat on Southland stages.


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“Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel,” West End Theatre, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. 7:30 and 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends Dec. 21. $20. (310) 425-8308 or Running time: 45 minutes.