No more Lillith

Bebe Neuwirth takes role 'Here Lies Jenny'

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

SAN FRANCISCO - Through darkness there is light, and through light there is Bebe Neuwirth.

Recreating her role as Jenny from last summer's off-Broadway musical "Here Lies Jenny," two-time Tony and Emmy Award winner Neuwirth takes to stage the intriguing music of Kurt Weill, a German composer known for exploring the dark side of music. Or is it?

"There's duality in his music. He's a master at expressing joy via all the different emotions," Neuwirth said of Weill ("The Threepenny Opera," "Lady in the Dark," and "Lost in the Stars"). "I don't see it as angular harsh, which is sometimes portrayed in German pieces. I think there is great beauty."

"Here Lies Jenny," playing at the Post Street Theatre in San Francisco through May 25, is conceived and directed by Roger Rees, with musical direction by Leslie Stifelman, and featuring the choreography of Tony Award winner Ann Reinking (who choreographed "Chicago," which starred Neuwirth).

"Her aesthetic, her artistic sensibility is very much like mine," Neuwirth said of Reinking. "We have very similar impulses and we're quite intimate that way. She's a (Bob) Fosse dancer and I am as well. Our movements make sense."

This theatrical exploration of a mature woman begins inside a dark nightclub, where Jenny is drawn to its haunting music. As she explores the depths of her life via the sounds of Weill plus a few male companions, she discovers a strength within her - one that allows her to face another day.

The 90-minute show, filled with dance and song, is performed without an interlude. But does this deter Neuwirth, who's been dancing for years? Absolutely not.

"I'm so satisfied at the end of the show and it's so satisfying to me via this beautiful music," she admitted during a phone interview. "This is very, very profound and has deep feelings, situation and stories. I don't often get a chance to express these things as a performer. It's most personal."

Apart from performing the role of Jenny, Neuwirth also stars in the hit television series, "Law and Order: Trial by Jury," where she plays the role of a tough New York prosecutor. But her roots, she admitted, lie in dance.

"I'm very interested in different modes of expression and at the core of things, I am a theater animal," she said with a slight laugh. "It's fascinating to do other work, the writing is good, the production is good, the actors, ensemble and guests are good, it's a great job. But I'd rather be dancing."

Although Neuwirth has performed in an array of Broadway shows ("Sweet Charity," "Fosse" and "Chicago"), made television appearances and danced with the Julliard School as well as the Princeton Ballet Company, she carries the legend of being Lillith from the television show, "Cheers." But it's time to let that go, folks.

"I've been on stage since I was 7, I have been working in the profession since 1978 and I've played I don't know how many parts. But Lillith is not my name," she said of those who call her Lillith on the street. "My name is Bebe, and to be called something else is sort of dehumanizing. It makes me think they're not acknowledging me as a person, but as a four-inch high character on a TV screen.

"Clearly I'm being too sensitive," she continued. "I need to get over it. I'm just private."

"Here Lies Jenny," composed with a cast of five, will feature the lyrics of Bertolt Brecht, Roger Fernay, Ira Gershwin, Langston Hughes, Alan Jay Lerner, Maurice Magre, Ogden Nash, Franz Wefel and Kurt Weill.