Andrea Marcovicci was at her most professorial, and most enchanting, in her contribution to the Kurt Weill centenary, an evening of song called “Kurt Weill in America” presented by the New York Philharmonic. Happily admitting a preference for Weill’s Broadway music, as opposed to the darkly colored “beat-me-whip-me-I-still-love-you-Johnny-kinda-songs” that marked his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, Marcovicci took the audience on a wonderful tour of both the familiar highlights and the rarities of Weill’s American songbook.
A singer with ample theatrical instincts, Marcovicci is also meticulously attentive to lyrics. Her soprano may not be the most powerful or seamless instrument around, but she informs her singing with a rare appreciation of the context of a song — which she usually, and helpfully, shares with the audience. That’s particularly useful for the Weill songbook, which includes a lot of thematically adventurous shows on which he collaborated with an intriguing array of lyricists, from poets such as Ogden Nash and Langston Hughes to more traditional musical theater lyricists Alan Jay Lerner and Ira Gershwin.
Marcovicci offered ample selections from Weill’s best-known Broadway shows. An early set highlighted songs from “One Touch of Venus,” with lyrics by Nash, whose sly tone in “That’s Him” suavely undercuts the wistfully romantic melody. “Knickerbocker Holiday’s” “It Never Was You,” a song both lovely and sad, was sung with delicate coloring and sensitivity, and just a hint of heartbreak.
“Lady in the Dark,” a collaboration with Gershwin and Moss Hart, boasts one of Weill’s most varied scores. The perky “One Life to Live” was followed by the more ardently romantic “This Is New,” which in turn was followed by the similar contrast of the blackly comic “The Saga of Jenny” and the swooning, yearning “My Ship.”
There were just as many rarities on the program, however, and most of them warranted rediscovery. From a 1938 Fritz Lang picture with Sylvia Sidney called “You and Me,” Marcovicci dug up what she dubbed her biggest obscurity and one of Weill’s infrequent purely sunny compositions, “The Right Guy for Me.” That was followed by the similarly named “Mr. Right,” with a pert lyric by Alan Jay Lerner. “This Time Next Year,” a song from the musical adaptation of “Huckleberry Finn” that Weill was working on when he died, boasted a haunting melody and a plain-spoken, touching lyric.
Marcovicci closed with an encore from her favorite Weill show, “Love Life,” a touchingly sung “Here I’ll Stay.” She said she hopes to bring the show to the Algonquin in the fall. It would be a pity if she didn’t — it’s a knockout. The show’s musical director, Shelly Markham, doubled as an attentive accompanist at the piano.