The musical opens with Lola Blau as a Jewish singer trying to find work in Nazi-occupied Vienna. Escaping to the United States, she is obliged to sing in seedy nightclubs before achieving fame. After the war, she returns, with some trepidation, to Vienna. Her story is told in a nearly continuous flow of Kurt Weill-style numbers, each cleverly evoking a mood, a period or environment in wickedly accurate parody and pastiche. There are about twenty chansons, during which are projected historical images like Hitler on pedistals, splattered 'Juden' signs and body-littered battlefields. In Lola's return concert, she slyly condemns all those who failed to notice the disappearance of six million Jews and confronts the audience with its prejudices. She dares the audience to share Kreisler's disgust at Austria's posing as a victim of Nazism rather than as a collaborator.
Lola's pride at having survived--and her guilt at having left Europe--are neatly and poignantly captured in the play, which juxtaposes images of war with snippets of contemporaneous American culture, like "The Good Ship Lollypop" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Her return to Vienna turns the city inside out, with brilliant songs about collaborators ("Frau Schmidt), the entrenched plutocrat impresarios ("Herr Director") and a sardonic sendup of "Thank God for Hollywood" sung to Mozart's Piano Sonata in C major.
Kreisler's story actually eclipses Lola's (he admits that everything he does is somewhat autobiographical). He was born in Austria in 1922 and took refuge in the U.S. during WWII, struggling to establish himself among such Jewish expatriates as Arnold Schönberg and Friedrich Holländer. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, working in anti-Nazi intelligence and as a translator at the Nuremberg trials. Although he returned to Europe in 1955, Kreisler has retained his American citizenship. His dark humor and uncompromising criticism of society and politics have caused him many difficulties, including appearance prohibitions in radio and television. Now in his eighties, he lives in Basel with his wife, cabaret artist Barbara Peters.
The show's popularity on the continent is partly explained by Europe's continuing obsession with the Holocaust. British audiences have also found it marvelously illuminating. Reviewing a 1995 production with East German actress Esther Zsieschow at The Old Red Lion, Islington (London), critic Graham Hassell wrote in "What's On" that the piece found an "appreciative audience, who like me, discovered new and sad facts about post war anti-Semitism and denial or ignorance of the Holocaust in Austria and the UK. It is perhaps a shame that few or none of them were of the generation of young people here in the UK that is credited with knowing nothing about the Holocaust or the significance of Auschwitz. And that's despite current emphasis on Holocaust studies in schools, the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the institution of National Holocaust Memorial Day."
Fridays & Saturdays at 10:00 pm; Sundays at 5:30pm
Theater: La Mama E.T.C.
Address: 74A E. 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
Buy Tickets Online or Call: WWW.LAMAMA.ORG at (212) 475-7710;