Months ago, one foggy, almost eerie night, Paul Sand, a Tony Award-winning actor, and a longtime Santa Monica resident, was walking with friends at the end of the pier. As the waves crashed ominously in the dark sea below, Paul observed, “Wouldn‚Äôt this be a great place for a Kurt Weill production?” (I can hear some readers asking, “Who‚Äôs Kurt Weill?”)
Weill was a German composer who, in the 1930s, wrote dark theatrical waterfront songs about revenge, murder and broken hearts. He‚Äôs probably most famous for his “Threepenny Opera,” from which the most popular song was “Moritat vom Mackie Messer,” or, as we came to know it in America, “Mack the Knife.” (And here all this time I thought Bobby Darin wrote it.)
For decades, Sand has appeared on hit TV series, including “Taxi,” “St. Elsewhere, “The X Files,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”¬† His Santa Monica roots go back in one‚Äôs life about as far as possible. Born in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, as an infant, Paul‚Äôs parents would rent a beach cottage during a portion of the summer. In fact, on the Santa Monica Pier is where Paul took his first steps. (He‚Äôs a week away from taking another step on the pier, but I‚Äôm getting ahead of myself.)
How Paul turned his idea into a reality is reminiscent of a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie. For those too young, Rooney and Garland were in 10 movies together, often musicals where the two young characters decide to “put on a show.”
I digress, but coincidentally Paul‚Äôs first job in theatre, at age 19, was for the immortal Garland. He sang and danced in her classic, “We‚Äôre a Couple of Swells,” that toured the West Coast. When he auditioned, however, he was so nervous that immediately afterwards he rushed into the alley where, for lack of a better term, he upchucked.
Suddenly, he felt a comforting hand on his forehead. It was Garland, who informed him he had gotten the job. Paul apologized for his nervousness and getting sick. “That‚Äôs OK,” Garland said reassuringly, “on the road, you can use my bucket.” (I just love that story.)
So, in the Rooney/Garland spirit of “let‚Äôs put on a show, gang,” Paul contacted Jim Harris, deputy director of the Santa Monica Pier Corp., to pitch his idea. Instead of “Don‚Äôt call me, I‚Äôll call you,” as is so often the case in this busy world, Harris was enthusiastic.
“We‚Äôve wanted to add live theatre on the pier for years,” Harris said. “I have an available space at the west end. It hangs out over the ocean and gets pretty wild up there sometimes, but would that suit you?”
Just as Mickey Rooney might have, Paul responded, “You bet it would!” Jim wound up the conversation with, “What do you think of calling it The West End Theatre?” And voila, a cabaret was born. Well, almost.
Paul still had to assemble the talent. Instead of auditions he relied on the notes he‚Äôd taken from performances he had seen around town. “When someone sticks out you remember them,” he said. “I take programs home and make a circle around their name and think, hopefully something comes up.” And something did come up.
But also coming up was the always tedious and difficult task of raising funds. You could say, like the cuttlefish in the show‚Äôs title, Paul extended his tentacles. Remarkably, especially in this still difficult economy, he successfully raised the bucks to get the production off the drawing board and ready to set sail.
So it is that “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel” debuts next Friday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 p.m., at The West End Theatre. It‚Äôs aptly named, or as Paul jokes, “Any further west and you‚Äôd get wet.”
The theatre is housed in the enclosed observation deck above the MariaSol Restaurant. But on Friday and Saturday nights it will magically transform into an early 1930s Berlin cabaret. The performances will include a five-piece band and Paul‚Äôs fellow actors Megan Rippey, Shay Astar and Sol Mason, who will take the role of the narrator. The production also features the talents of acclaimed music director Michael Roth and well-known artist Marie Lalanne.
Paul‚Äôs vision includes special lighting, large murals on canvas, musicians welcoming visitors as they enter and a giant cuttlefish atop the theater. It‚Äôs all intended to create an enthralling and intimate cabaret atmosphere.
“We plan to get the audience under our spell and keep them there,” Paul said.
And my guess is, with a little help from his friends, he‚Äôll do just that.
Tickets for “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel” are $20 and can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com. Jack can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.