Book and Music by Michael Antin, Lili Marlene is a stirring musical about love family and courage in the face of rising fascism in pre-Germany World War II. This world premiere, directed and choreographed by Mark Blowers, produced by John Lant and Tamra Pica, retells the story of famous cabaret singer Rosie Penn and Count Hans William van Kleister Graff and their loved ones in Berlin circa 1932-1933. The play is a sweeping classic, with music that ranges from serious ballads, to lullabies, to rousing songs of beer, all backing a story of men and women facing a world falling into madness.
Rosie Penn (Amy Londyn) is sought after by the Count, called Willie (Tavis L. Baker), as the potential love of his life. As the play progresses, however, naturally there is conflict. Rosie was adopted and is probably Jewish. Willie’s job is to help expedite passports. Willie’s sister Marlene (LeAnna Sharp), and husband Friedrich (Darren Mangler), are doctors and at first are fine with Rosie. But as Hitler ascends to power, tension within and without this family grows. Willie’s job becomes more complex as he is sought out to help people escape the rising tide of hate, while trying to avoid being arrested himself, as well as trying to protect the love of his life. This play starts with comic songs of beer drinking and love and a beautiful duet between Londyn and Baker. But eventually the songs get darker, with the final love song one of sadness and hope. Amy Londyn’s voice is worthy of Broadway. In fact, none of the cast disappoints.
Further horrors of this time are revealed in the youth of Willie’s family, twin brother and sister, Kurt (Judd Yort) and Janine (Aubrie Alexander). Kurt voices opposition to Hitler publically while his sister is terrified for their lives. Their younger brother Jacob (Anna Dawahare), demonstrates how tragic this time was as innocents forever lost. This is not a play to see if one has little stomach for the violence of fascism. The violence is not graphic but it is painful though balanced by beautiful voices with heartfelt lyrics.
Rosie Penn’s world is full of chorus girls and Renate (Darcy Silveira), her side kick friend and announcer at the club where she performs. Silveira dresses like Liza Minnelli in the musical Cabaret. Many of the cast members are double cast (though it is not listed in the program) and switch from cabaret singers, to Nazi Soldiers, to what are called ‘swing’ performers. Jessa Campbell and Justin Selig double as Willis’ assistants Helga and Klaus and the Female and Male Swing. They perform like mannequins who come out and explain the world of Germany 1932 like stilted poets. It is an incredibly creative way to relay to the audience the facts of this play without giving a lecture.
This story is imaginative, not historical, but a tale worth knowing. The famous singer Marlene Dietrich recorded the song “Lili Marlene” in the 40s. It was actually a propaganda tool of the United States to affect the German soldiers. The original song was recorded by Lale Andersen in 1939 but written in 1915 as a poem and was popular by both Allied and the Axis troops (German, Japan, Italy).
In this play it is Rosie Penn played by Amy Londyn who delivers this song—a song that, in the end, changes Rosie’s life forever.
Lili Marlene, by Michael Antin
Write Act Repertory (Brickhouse Theater)
10950 Peach Grove Street
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Runs until April 16th
Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.
Sundays, 2:00 p.m.
Running time: Approximately ninety minutes, with no intermission.
For tickets call (800) 383-3006 ext 1. For more information see Write Act Repertory’s website.