The caustic irony & sardonic wit of Lola Blau


WW II may be over, but the song remains the same

“Tonight: Lola Blau” is scathing Old World satire at its finest. Written by the legendary Austrian cabaretist Georg Kreisler in 1971 and skillfully directed by Dick Top, Lola Blau transports us to 1938 — moments before Austria’s annexation to the Third Reich. With a few bold strokes and a judicious use of German (mostly English cognates and a puppet song in Viennese dialect), Top molds historical matter masterfully and in a way that is fresh and accessible to audiences on either side of the Atlantic and to generations born on either end of the WWII timeline.

The show opens with aspiring singer/showgirl. Lola Blau openly admitting her ignorance about politics; viscerally sensing the brink of collective doom and feeling plagued by an inner warning in the form of silent voices. In spite of this torment, Lola harnesses the power of the only thing that can silence those fears: her untamable desire to become an international star.

There’s only one problem. She’s Jewish and is forced to leave her country. When a government official brands Lola with the yellow star of Judaism, she does not accept it as defeat. Instead, she dusts herself off and defiantly belts out a tune “Chin Up, Keep Smiling, That’s Life.” After being denied a visa to Switzerland, Lola gets accepted to the U.S. and gets her lucky break as a theater artist.

Lola Blau is played by the commanding and electrifying German actress and solo artist Anna Krämer. She has a broad range of facial expressions and accents and croons like she means it — deilivering a Lola Blau that bears the true mark of Kreisler’s caustic irony and sardonic wit. She’s ballsy, pragmatic, and gets what she wants. Her sexuality is also prominent tool in her bag of tricks. But the vamp also preserves a genuine romantic side and continues to hold a torch for the lover of her youth, Leo, even after she reaches the heights of stardom. The multi-talented pianist JoeVolker plays the roles of Nazi sympathizer Leo, Schmitt and a stodgy Viennese theater administrator. Volker has impeccable comedic timing. The rapport between he and Krämer was well honed and convincing — even though I saw the performance on opening night.

The vicissitudes of Lola Blau’s life parallel the biography of the Georg Kreisler in numerous ways. Like Lola, Kreisler was Viennese and Jewish and migrated to New York to escape the Nazis. Don White’s skillful translation is abundantly adept at depicting the targets of Kreisler’s biting political satire: anti-Semitism, capitalism, polite sexual prudishness, the German cult of bureaucracy and American and European stereotypes. He also manages to reproduce an essential feature of Kreisler’s lyrics: the powerful rhymes. Kreisler, who is now in his eighties and living in Basel with his cabaret artist wife Barbara Peters, continues to write lyrics and perform readings.

Raucous skits, political jokes and song lyrics rich with sexual double entendres provide various forms of entertainment — but one feature is constant: they all pack a jolt of irony often chased by a cerebral punch.

The show reminds us that even when political realities change for the better, the mentality of a people and a society do not necessarily keep apace with those changes. The post-war Vienna that Lola returns to is no less anti-Semitic and class conscious than the way she left it. In the face of this new reality, Kreisler’s characters could not be further removed from the defeated consciousness of the victimized. They openly condemn the perpetrators and the hypocrites that hide behind the system. In the end, no one spared of his or her responsibility in the historical process, not even the audience. Lola reassures the audience that while it may be entertainment they may have been seeking, it is criticism and accusation that they’ll be getting. That the criticism also happens to amuse may not be an accident, but it is a key ingredient of art that is worthy of its name.

Interview with Anna Krämer