"a fantastic show - outstanding singing. It was sleazy. It was stirring. It was utterly memorable." --Andrew Clover of the Sunday Times
"Duthie's background as a many-year veteran in musicals and jazz bands is evident from the outset. By the time we arrived at the chilling Speak Low - calm on the surface, yet bubbling with undercurrents of febrile yearning - we were left with no doubt whatsoever that we were in the presence of a true master of his craft." -- FIVE STARS -The Edinburgh Review
"When he sings, his voice is like a big, dark, sultry room --full of emotive and expressive possibilities. Even when Duthie sings in languages other than English, the passion and subtext come startlingly alive."-- The Georgia Straight, Vancouver
" It takes more than just an expressive voice to really communicate Kurt Weill songs - it takes love, fear, regrets, wistfulness, loneliness, tragedy and charm. And above all, it takes a fine actor. Duthie has it all... Listening to Duthie sing is like sipping hot chocolate topped with cream, sitting on a sun terrace high up in the French Alps, snow all around." --FIVE STARS - Theatreworld Magazine, London, England
"his remarkable voice interprets the songs of Kurt Weill better than anybody since Lotte Lenya! (His rendition of 'Speak Low When You Speak Love' will break your heart.) An absolute MUST" -- FIVE STARS - CBC WINNIPEG
"Bremner's voice was strong and beautiful. Darlings, life is a cabaret." -- FIVE STARS - Three Weeks Magazine
" And my god, does he ever sing. Bremner's performance is jaw-dropping-my jaw literally dropped-as he not only sings beautifully but actually performs the songs beautifully as well. This is the play the lucky few who get to see it will be raving about until next year's Fringe, and you should kick yourself if you're not one of them. " -- FIVE STARS - View Magazine, Hamilton
"For many of us, our first exposure to Kurt Weill was on Bette Midler's early albums. Since then, such performers as Ute Lemper and Teresa Statas have become great interpreters of his music. Add Bremner Duthie, the star of 'Whiskey Bars' to that list. He delivers a stunning, stirring rendition of "What Keeps a Man Alive?" and his 'Mack the Knife' is done slowly and seductively, because it's a song for a bad boy. Duthie's character tells us that Weill's music is both sacred and profane at the same time, making 'Whiskey Bars' is smart, sexy and a bit sad."" -- Steven LaVigne, Minneapolis Review
"Bremner Duthie has.... a voice of power and inner beauty that commands the whole space..... One feels like being seduced by the sheer power and beauty of this performance" Musical Stages Magazine: London, England
FOUR STARS "Bremner Duthie seduces the audience with fine singing..... and a hit parade of marvelous songs." Now Magazine
"The songs expand and breathe with meaning in the context given by Bremner's ironic and complex delivery and his superb script. Absolutely see this one." -John Munger, Director, Dance America
FOUR STARS "... one of the best renditions of Mack the Knife you're likely to hear. Extraordinary. " --The Winnipeg Sun
"For many of us, our first exposure to Kurt Weill was on Bette Midler's early albums. Since then, such performers as Ute Lemper and Teresa Statas have become great interpreters of his music. Add Bremner Duthie, the star of 'Whiskey Bars' to that list. He delivers a stunning, stirring rendition of "What Keeps a Man Alive, and his 'Mack the Knife' is done slowly and seductively, because it's a song for a bad boy. Duthie's character tells us that Weill's music is both sacred and profane at the same time..."-Steven LaVigne
"...treat yourself and see this show. Bremner Duthie is great performer, and whether he's acting or singing (what a voice!) he fills that stage and the whole Whitney space with his remarkable presence. "-Matthew Everett
FOUR STARS "The George Ignatieff Theatre is one of those cold energy sinks dreaded by performers, yet Bremner Duthie manages fill that whole negatively charged space for an hour" -- Eye Magazine
"An amazing voice " -- eye.com
FOUR STARS "Bremner Duthie seduces the audience with fine singing..... and a hit parade of marvelous songs." -- Now Magazine
FOUR STARS "An astonishingly talented performer! " -- See Magazine
"Bremner Duthie interspersed his stunning vocal performances with monologues, that were both touching and funny, linking the songs into a hugely entertaining package, applauded enthusiastically by the sell-out crowd." -- Cayman Island News
"his remarkable voice interprets the songs of Kurt Weill better than anybody since Lotte Lenya! (His rendition of 'Speak Low When You Speak Love' will break your heart.) An absolute MUST" --CBC WINNIPEG
" ...the big draw here, folks, is Bremner Duthie's voice. He sings the songs of Kurt Weill gorgeously, with tremendous passion. It's great fun."--Mathew Everett, web-reviewer:
"Bremner Duthie has.... a voice of power and inner beauty that commands the whole space..... One feels seduced by the sheer power and beauty of this performance" Musical Stages Magazine: London, England
"A washed-up cabaret performer gets ready for his comeback only to find in his dressing room a reporter. The interview ensues and the audience watches as this original tale written and performed by Bremner Duthie takes his has-been character and shows the reporter and viewers what kind of an artist this man had been.
Whiskey Bars is filled with Kurt Weill songs, but Bremner Duthie makes them his own with confidence and his skill as a professional artist. A wide variey of emotions are displayed for the audience by Duthie and each resonates as the show goes on. The power of Duthie's voice keeps the audience glued to his performance with applause after applause as each song is laid to rest. Singing in mutiple languages and executing them to convey the emotion to the audience, not the actual words, shows artistic and masterful craftsmanship. The comedic timing and sprinkled banter of Duthie's character experience is funny and entertaining as well. You can see the differences the cabaret performer as he has little confidence, bashfully asking for a good review to the reporter and then changes to a confident and powerful artist when he performs the songs. There were no bumps or weak spots in the performance. Duthie came prepared and executed his production well.
For me this is a real cabaret show. It seems that Whisky Bars shouldn't be Fringe material and should be displayed where professional-level shows are to be seen. We are very lucky to be able to have a peek at this international production. I recommend this to everyone from the newbie audience to the hardcore theatre buff. Whiskey Bars: a Kabarett with Songs of Kurt Weill is my Pick of the Fringe."
for '33, a one man Weimar musical
’33 is a gem of a show, frozen in a moment in time—the rise of facism in the 1930s—but also beautiful frozen in that moment between rational thought and madness. Haunted, Bremner Duthie steps carefully around a deserted cabaret theater where overturned suitcases and discarded frocks remind him of his theater friends.
He questions how tyranny can be allowed to flourish: “Why now?” he asks. “Because they can. Because no one says anything anymore.” The recollections of his friends—taken by “them”—spur songs in Duthie’s rich voice: an eerie “We’re in the Money,” a disturbing “Mack the Knife,” among them.
Most telling (and most frightening): A monologue about how the whole world will be one happy family (when those who aren’t wanted are removed), delivered against a backdrop of “Ode to Joy”—which has never sounded so sinister before. This engrossing cabaret of the shadows comes with a warning as Duthie’s emcee character ponders removing his individuality and just blending in. After all, he says, if he dresses in “normal” clothes, no one will know the difference. “They don’t tattoo artists…” he whispers, “…yet.”
“The sound of the marching of jack-booted troopers permeates ‘33, Bremner Duthie’s oddly gripping tribute to French and German cabaret during the Nazi years of the late 1930s. You can’t always hear the ominous sounds of boots outside the door. But, as Duthie sings his songs, you know that they’re there…..Duthie himself, with his shaved head, haunted face and gorgeously delicate baritone, is utterly arresting as the vanquished impresario of a ruined cabaret, haltingly gathering his paltry things together before he tries to escape into the dark...”
London Theatre Festival
Best Show Impresario Award, London Fringe Theatre Festival 2011
Best Actor in Festival, London Fringe Theatre Festival 2011
London Festival Blog --
“Plays focusing on Germany at the rise of Hitler are a risky business, as there’s simply such a massive amount of material based on this terrible time in history. The result of this glut is a slew of performances that fall to clichés and stereotypes, using tired old tropes to play out a horror we can’t (and shouldn’t) stop telling ourselves.
But this cabaret is not one of those shows. Duthie delivers a stellar performance in this show that focuses on the last remaining performer from a cabaret deemed “perverse” by the ruling party. This show honestly has something for everyone, from songs crooned masterfully to raunchy humour and sharp commentary. Particularly haunting (and effective) is Duthie’s use of props, like shoes and wigs, to represent those who have been purged before him—a stunning allusion to holocaust museums the world over.
In the end, I cannot stress enough how strong Duthie is in this masterfully constructed play—he brings the perfect amount of energy and emotion to the scenes to portray a broken and scared man, grown weary in a nation gone mad.”
“This isn't a fun show, and it won't make you feel good. But what it will do - and extremely successfully, too - is take your breath away. From the disheveled set to the actor, in tears from the start of the show, it sets the scene on the time and the place, and draws the audience in. The singing was intentionally raw (this is a good thing - he truly sounded as if his heart was breaking) and the actor seamlessly moves between German, French and even Yiddish. Go see this show.”
“Bremner Duthie brings an expressive baritone voice, filled with musical and dramatic range, and a wonderful use of physicality (whether he's walking, posing, or soft-shoeing) to the stage of the McManus. He can whisper, belt out show-tune style, tremble, soar, and his choice of interpretations (both vocal choices and the musical arrangements) left me in awe at times, going "Who would ever thought you could do THAT song THAT way?" Classic songs reinterpreted in new contexts include "Falling in Love Again" and "Mack the Knife". A riveting, intentionally disturbing, vulnerable, brash, sensitive performance. "
Montreal Theatre Festival Festival Blog
FIVE STARS --"This is the best show I've seen so far. Crosses the line between touching and gut wrenching. The character is beautifully developed. Compelling performance that speaks to darker themes without losing it's sparkle. A must see for Brecht lovers or anyone with an interest in the political history of theatre. A touching love song to a bygone era"
FOUR STARS -- "A must-see! This show combines music, nostalgia, tragedy, comedy, and cross-dressing into a one-of-a-kind experience."
FIVE STARS -- "Absolutely wonderful. (And I can be a hard sell on cabaret!) Loved the dark melancholy mood, and the political parallels arguing what it means to be an artist in uncertain times. HIGHLY recommended!"
Edmonton Fringe Festival
Edmonton's Vue Magazine
Set amongst the turmoil of Nazi Germany, the one-man musical spectacle of ’33 (a kabarett) is a stunning theatrical accomplishment. Using nothing but a microphone and a few props scattered around the stage, Bremner Duthie works his way through costume changes, song and dance numbers, a myriad of character transformations and an entire spectrum of emotions—all while openly including the audience as active participants in the show. Duthie’s vocal and acting chops are both incredibly impressive, covering everything from a crass comedy routine to mournful songs of loss and desperation. The result is an entire variety show of undeniable entertainment.
Bremner Duthie’s one-man musical show, ’33 (A Kabarett).... grows and blossoms into a truly mesmerizing piece of theatre. Shows with Holocaust/Nazi themes are never easy to pull off successfully. Done poorly, they can become cloying and cliché. Done well, they can be too dark and disturbing for audience comfort. But Duthie works a little bit of dramatic magic, as the embittered Master of Ceremonies of a Weimar cabaret, hiding from the Nazi authorities in his abandoned theatre, as war rages. Most of the narrator’s former colleagues have already fallen victim to Hitler’s homicidal regime – some because they’re Jewish, others simply because they are “decadents” and rebels, outspoken artists who wouldn’t stay quiet.
Our M.C. narrator, ironically, has survived thus far by keeping his mouth shut. When we first meet him, he comes across as whiny and self-dramatizing and frankly not very likeable. Then, one by one, he brings each of his fallen comrades to life – the macho, sensual Spanish dancer, the offensively brilliant, and brilliantly offensive, Brooklyn stand-up comic, and the sexually generous torch singer, a women whose stage presence was so captivating, no one noticed she was actually quite ugly. Each tiny portrait comes to life with ferocious energy held in ferocious check.
And it’s all strung together with music from the 1930s, from Kurt Weill to Friedrich Holländer t0 Gershwin. Duthie channels a classic cabaret singer’s voice - his authentically menacing rendition of Mack the Knife will sand-blast the Bobby Darrin treacle from your ears, and his Falling in Love Again, sung in both German and English, has just the right touch of Marlene Dietrich/Blue Angel gravel. But the most astonishing performance is when he assumes the persona of the cabaret’s lost chanteuse, the woman he loved, and sings a smoldering version of Stephen Sondheim’s wicked I Never Do Anything Twice. The song is totally ahistorical, of course- yet it feels exactly right.
The cleverest part of Duthie’s show, though, is the way the script offers subtle, shadowy shout-outs to the political situation of today. Without ham-fistedly comparing the political leaders of the moment to Hitler, Duthie quietly compels us to reflect on our own complicity in the security culture around us. His delicately subversive show finally asks us to ask ourselves this question – if we say nothing, if we stay silent, when we see civil liberties eroded in the name of preserving homeland security and moral values, how complicit are we in the evils of others? As our craven narrator/hero finally finds his courage and finds his voice, he challenges us to do the same.
The theatre is trashed. The stage is strewn with stray costume pieces, a shoe here, an overturned chair there. And a grotesque figure, white of face and red of lip, stands before us, poised to exit stage left.
He’s the MC, the broken impresario of a now-vanished Weimar cabaret, evidently traumatized by the destruction that surrounds him. When he discovers us, an audience brave or foolhardy enough to defy the curfew imposed by the oppressive new regime, the MC is moved to conjure his fallen castmates: the sneering clown, the tarnished showgirl, the dancer, and the rest. Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome to the kabarett — a ghostly entertainment conjured for us by its sole survivor.
Bremner Duthie, whose credits include a hit Kurt Weill cabaret, is the real thing. He’s an intense and expert singer — and more than that, performer— of the ’30s repertoire, in English, French, German, Yiddish. “I don’t speak any language any more.” He gives a sardonic grin, cutting edges, and the sense of a lost era to Boulevard of Broken Dreams, say, or Thanks For The Memories. He makes Noel Coward’s arch little ditty Why Must The Show Go On? a question worth asking, and Lover Come Back To Me an act of mourning. Mac The Knife is a veritable slash of dissonance and horror.
The songs are outstanding, animated as they are by a chilling premise. And this kabarett has a grubby, lived-in look and feel about it. I wonder, though, if the extreme emotional pitch of the overwrought character onstage, teetering tragically on the edge of tears, doesn’t grow a bit repetitious between songs. Like fury, histrionic despair is a tricky posture to sustain for an entire show. And the point that it’s the artist’s job to cross boundaries, take risks and defy authority is one the MC makes rather explicitly, again and again.
The songs, and the staging, slide the knife in from deadlier, oblique angles.
Toronto Stage Interview
Bremner Duthie – Whiskey Bars
"With musical offerings coming in all shapes and sizes, there’s never a shortage of originality if you look hard enough.
The splendidly paced and thoroughly engaging Whiskey Bars is worthy of such a nod. Bremner Duthie’s sparkling solo creation pays homage to composer Kurt Weill through an unnamed character staging a cabaret comeback. It’s a story that’s told in a lack luster dressing room where a reviewer is on hand to write a piece on the event. Two parts talk and one part song, the presentation highlights the pain and fear consuming an artist who hungers for stardom.
Bremner Duthie has been performing the show for the past decade and his passion for both the character and composer is by no means a coincidence.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Having toured this show over the course of a decade, why do you find so much pleasure in coming back to it?
I do the show because I love doing it. I love the struggle of this absurd character and I love singing these Kurt Weill songs.
I wrote Whiskey Bars over one long weekend in 2000. I wanted something quick and easy - a dramatic format to present a group of Kurt Weill songs. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d still be doing the show 10 years later.
I’m still doing it for several reasons. First, it proved more popular than I could ever have imagined and so it has a reason to stay alive – i.e. audiences still respond to the struggle of this vain, pretentious, proud, wounded, talented, touchy, almost ridiculous character. Second, it has evolved a long way from that first presentation – everything changed: the script, the songs, the accompaniment, the drama. I worked with dramaturges, choreographers, directors, friends. They all added in some way to the show and it slowly grew.
Finally, the show is hard to do, and that makes it very satisfying. It’s never, ever easy. – the songs are masterpieces of musical theatre writing and I feel an immense responsibility to make the most of them, and the character sits on a knife edge of total failure and success. His plunging elations and doubts and depressions and enthusiasms are always tricky to navigate on stage. When it works it’s totally exhausting and totally satisfying.
Whiskey Bars features an unnamed character only known as The Performer, an aspiring hockey player who gave it all up for show biz. How do you describe his addiction to greatness?
His addiction is the same one that you see with every performer. He’s a caricature, but his joys and hopes and fears are pretty much what you see in any dressing room.
We’re in a strange business where the work and rewards and the job satisfaction are often ephemeral and insubstantial. People work all their life in theatre for tiny financial rewards. There are only a very few people who get to be the Brad Pitts and George Clooneys but most arts workers work incredibly hard to create the things they love and believe in, whether its music or theatre or dance or paintings, and receive tiny rewards. I’ve never met that stereotype of the ‘lazy artist’. I think most artists (and the performer in Whiskey Bars) have a dream of stardom, but would really be delighted and content with the opportunity to make a living, and the possibility of just continuing to do the work.
So, he dreams of greatness, but if you scratched the surface of that dream, it might end up simply looking like a chance to perform again tomorrow night, and the night after that, and the night after that. To keep on doing what he loves. His fear is mostly that this might be the last night he gets to do that.
The character is partial to having a stiff drink before his cabaret act to calm his pre-show jitters. At one point, he admits being terrified to sing. What is the back story to his insecurity?
Well, I have to admit having some slight insecurities about being on stage and the constant wonder if my skills and talents will match up to my ambitions. But I think that I bubble along at the relatively normal high level of doubt (I was once much reassured by the knowledge that both Peter Fonda and Sarah Bernhardt could be found before each performance throwing up in the dressing room toilet).
I personally remember a cellist friend who would have to drink most of a bottle of vodka before getting on stage and playing superbly. I sang with an opera singer once and we had to physically pick her up offstage and throw her on as the orchestra approached her cue. She would sing like an angel, make her exit to a standing ovation and then collapse sobbing onto the floor in the wings.
Apparently the physical sensations as a performer waits to make their entrance are very similar to those of a person having a heart attack. Just to get on stage you have to navigate your way through these physical and mental roadblocks.
But most of all, I wanted to write about the fact that this thing that he does on stage – singing the music he loves - is the thing he loves most in the world and he desperately wants to do it well and do it justice, and I think that is what terrifies him most of all, that he might fail himself and the music. Sometimes the thing you love most of all is the hardest thing to confront.
Having done the show so many times, do you see The Performer differently now than when you first created him?
When I wrote him he was much more of a goofball character. Well, now I’m ten years on in my career and in my life, so oddly some of the lines I wrote as jokes have come to be much more personal.
When he speaks about growing older and wondering why he continues to do this, sometimes I ask myself that. I guess I have a lot more sympathy for him and take him a lot more seriously than I used to.
And he’s producing his own ‘comeback’. Most of the productions of Whiskey Bars are situations I’ve set up myself, so when I walk on stage I have a lot of sympathy for his plight.
This offering is a salute to musical composer Kurt Weill in which you sing 10 of the songs that he made famous. The Performer lashes out at the reviewer asking him, “Do you even know who Kurt Weill was?” Has the German born entertainer secured his rightful place in musical history?
Weill struggled all his life do find ways to do his work. It was never easy for him. But he was one of these talented individuals who didn’t fit nicely into a niche so perhaps he doesn’t really have a ‘rightful place’.
He wrote huge classical works – operas, oratorios, and yet he loved music that appealed to the masses, and he deeply believed in issues of social and moral justice. He defined himself as a secular German Jew, but his music was chosen by the Nazi’s for particular persecution (when the Nazi’s set up their exhibition of ‘Decadent Art’ to show how disgusting was the work of people they classified as ‘subhuman’, they set up a special room where Weill’s music was played – it proved so popular that it had to be closed down).
He is now mostly remembered for a few standards like September Song, Mack the Knife, or Speak Low, and also for a few of his early German works like Three Penny Opera and the Rise and Fall of the city of Mahagonny. Yet, after running from the Nazis and after a difficult time trying to work in Hollywood, his first real American successes, ‘Johnny Johnson’ and ‘Lady in the Dark’, revolutionized musical theatre.
In Whiskey Bars I pull songs from across his career and I love the evolution in his work and the sense of the same brilliant hand behind all the different styles.
Playgoers are more familiar with songs such as ‘Moon Faced, Starry Eyed’ and ‘Mack The Knife’ that accent the show nicely. Which musical number do you find the most joy in performing?
I love all the songs, I couldn’t keep on doing them if I didn’t adore them.
When I pick the show up after a year of not performing it, I get a great sense of excitement about returning to work on these songs. They are complex and frank and straightforward and multi-leveled. I’m still finding out things about them.
If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say Speak Low (with lyrics by Ogden Nash). It’s usually performed as a slightly up-tempo, tongue-in-cheek song. I chose to take it the other way and slow it down. A couple of weeks ago in the middle of the song something about the lyrics and music hit me and I realized that this is possibly the saddest song I will ever sing.
for Whiskey Bars - a kabarett with the songs of Kurt Weill