A Little Lascivious Music (Send in Attila the Hun)

Vienna to Weimar: KT Sullivan and Karen Kohler at The Triad

By Stephen Holden
The New York Times
October 21, 2012

Photo by Brian Harkin/The New York Times

Tucked into the saucy cabaret revue “Vienna to Weimar,” a survey of Austrian and German songs from operetta through the Weimar era at the Triad, is a guilty pleasure titled “A Little Attila.” Composed in 1922 by Rudolf Nelson and translated into English by Jeremy Lawrence, the song is a politically incorrect rape fantasy focused on Attila the Hun, whom the song describes as “a cute little brute” who’s “selfish and oblivious, lascivious and lewd.” The narrator declares, “I don’t need a flotilla or a villa by the sea/but oh for a scintilla of some virility.”

At Saturday’s opening-night show “A Little Attila” was delivered with just the right tone of lubricious amusement by the singer K T Sullivan and her musical partner Karen Kohler, who were accompanied on piano by Jed Distler. Ms. Sullivan, who represents the Viennese side of the show’s cultural equation, is operatically trained. And while she is no Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, she delivered familiar songs (mostly waltzes) by Johann Strauss and Franz Lehár with an airy enjoyment.

Ms. Kohler, a lean, angular German-born cabaret singer, represented the Weimar era. Wearing a man’s tuxedo, she made a striking contrast to Ms. Sullivan’s voluptuous courtesan of a certain age. As they stood arm in arm and sang vintage reflections on gender and sexuality, in both German and English, they teased you with the idea that they might be lovers.

While singing “Raus mit den Männern aus dem Reichstag” (“Chuck Out the Men”), a thoroughly modern-sounding denunciation of male aggression with an anti-Nazi message, you had the feeling that they could take on the world. As long as they stood together, men, even Attila the Hun, were dispensable.

Although its songs aren’t arranged in a strict chronology, the show follows an arc in which cushy Viennese sentimentality gives way to hard-edged Brecht-Weill cynicism in much harsher times, then returns for a final giddy fling in Lehar’s “Meine Lippen, sie Küssen so heiss” (“My Lips, They Kiss So Hot”) and “The Merry Widow Waltz.”

“Weimar to Vienna” is a perfect complement to Mark Nadler’s 54 Below show, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” which includes a couple of the same songs. Weimar is in the air.