The U.K. premiere of Weill's first stage work, Zaubernacht (Magical Night), is playing through the end of December at the Linbury Studio Theatre in the Royal Opera House. A ballet-pantomime for children, the work dates from 1922, when it was staged in Berlin under the direction of Wladimir Boritsch. The original score was lost for eighty years, until a set of instrumental parts was found in the Yale University Music Library and used to reconstruct the authoritative score now published by the Kurt Weill Edition. The ROH production, choreographed by Aletta Collins and conducted by James Holmes, is thoroughly charming the critics, and more importantly, kids and their parents. We've collected some on-line features and reviews that explain why it's such a hit (all photos by Tristram Kenton).
BBC Radio 3 interview with James Holmes (start at 1:08)
"Of all the things you might expect from Kurt Weill, enchanted toys are low on the list. In 1922, just six years before the Marxist sharp edges of The Threepenny Opera, Weill wrote Zaubernacht, a simple story of children watching their toys come to life. Recently rediscovered, the score is downright sweet. What brings this production to life is Aletta Collins' staging, full of wit and invention . . . . Magical Night is a gentle performance, with lots of variations on simple plot developments. Collins, her cast and creative team give it delightful freshness and warmth."
Zoë Anderson, The Independent (12 December 2011)
"The music of Magical Night slinks and darts between silent film score urgency and Weimar cabaret sophistication, and its unexpected angles have been translated by choreographer Aletta Collins into an excuse for mischief . . . . Magical Night proves to be anarchically entertaining. Collins doesn't fall into the trap of assuming that the concept or the costumes will do all the work. Every toy is a well-thought-out character, and everything it does is for a reason. Owen Ridley-DeMonick's Mighty Robot is a fake-tanned hunk, who pumps iron by default. Alessandra Ruggeri's tumbling tot doll accidentally improvises rhythmic gymnastics routines. And Thomasin Gülgeç is a mercurial made-in-China Andy Serkis as Chimpy, the monkey without a tail who throws a tantrum when he encounters the little girl who broke it off. Scared and sulky, she draws herself a new friend--a witch who steals the girl's brother, forcing the toys on a rescue mission. This meticulous nonsense-logic is what sets Magical Night apart among the current Christmas shows and makes its many surprises all the more satisfying."
Clifford Bishop, Evening Standard (12 December 2011)
"Felicitous music with a vital rhythmic pulse that, matched with appropriate choreography, can be an arresting and enchanting theatrical experience: which is exactly what the ROH production offers . . . .
"The fact that the new Magical Night is so strongly evocative of earlier stories does not diminish it . . . rather it makes it powerfully familiar, expressing ideas which have become part of our collective imagination, our modern myths of evil and possession. It appears to be rather deeper than [Wladimir] Boritsch's playful fantasy, with a more obvious psychological message: just as we can easily create the objects of our fears, so we can destroy them. The ballet enacts the 'explanation' of fairy stories that has often been put forward: they help children understand and master their fears . . . .
"Magical Night is beautifully staged in the perfectly-sized Linbury Studio Theatre . . . . The dancers and the choreography are superb, with lots of customized moves to distinguish the characters, and abilities, of the different toys.
"To get the expert opinion of a child, I brought along my five-year-old daughter, Annie Ashizu, for a second opinion. Being well acquainted with the Toy Story trilogy, as well as Hansel and Gretel, she had more than enough imaginative equipment to be able to grasp, and be absorbed by, Magical Night. Her first words at the end were of the kind to delight any parent keen to introduce their child to the magic of live entertainment: 'Papa, I love this theatre [work]. I wish I could see it two times!' She hadn't said that after The Lion King, her previous benchmark for theatrical greatness, and as we left Covent Garden I couldn’t resist asking her if she thought Magical Night as good as Disney's epic. 'Yes,' she replied unhesitatingly; 'actually, it was better!' This may turn out to be the greatest tribute to the success of ROH's production to be found in any of the reviews. Annie instinctively loved the Pink Fairy and clearly experienced the end of the story as empowering. She talked about the characters all the way home, when she fell asleep her head was still full of them, and she woke up talking of how she had dreamed of being the Pink Fairy. We'll be going again."
David Chandler, Opera Today (13 December 2011)
"If you are looking for a show for all the family this Christmas, look no further. Magical Night is a heart-warming production of dance-theatre in which one night a host of toys come to life. Along with two children, the lovable Chimpy the monkey, Sir Green Knight, baby Tumble Tot, Fire Flame and Mighty Robot have a great adventure. . . . the music is a wonderful part of the performance and adds to the magical atmosphere. For those of you worried about sitting through a kids' production . . . there are plenty of laughs and excitement to keep the whole family entertained. This is a great choice for an evening out. If this is anything to go by, the little boy next to me couldn't stop laughing, and the seven year old to my right thought 'the costumes were amazing and the show was absolutely hilarious!' Magical Night's most important critics have spoken."
Antonia Salib, BachTrack (12 December 2011)
"If you want to give a kid a treat they'll never forget, get to Magical Night at the Linbury. Material toys they can get any time, but this is a unique opportunity to get them hooked on the magic of live theatre . . . . The ROH production is choreographed by Aletta Collins, with an amazing set by Rachael Canning. Giant Robot toys, the Pink Fairy, scary things and real children having fun. It's quite irrelevant to fuss about 'period' setting. Children don't really change at heart. If anything, modern kids, bombarded with TV, film and video games, need more than ever to be transported into a 'Magical Night' of heightened imagination."
Doundou Tchil, Classsical Iconoclast (12 December 2011)