By Jorge Casuso
December 6, 2013 -- Walk the wooden planks of the historic Santa Monica Pier when the fog rolls in, and it’s easy to imagine a lost world of gambling ships and ballrooms and speakeasies that invite drinking and murder.
Those visions inspired Tony Award-winning actor Paul Sand to launch the West End Theatre, which will open Friday for a limited run that promises to turn an enclosed observation deck at the end of the pier into a cabaret-style performing space.
And what better way to kick off the new venue than with “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel,” a waterfront show featuring the songs of the 20th century German composer that tell the chilling tales of gangsters and lonely streetwalkers and late nights at the next whiskey bar.
“I was taking a walk on the pier recently when I suddenly thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be a perfect place to have a theater and present a production of Kurt Weill’s dark, theatrical waterfront songs all about revenge, murder and broken hearts?’” said Sand.
“I’m sure Kurt Weill himself strolled along this pier, sometimes with his friend and collaborator Bertolt Brecht, who had a house not far away in Santa Monica” said Sand, who once lived in a small apartment above the carousel.
Pier officials quickly bought into an the idea they hope will enliven the underutilized observation deck deck above Mariasol Restaurant as a “pop-up” theatre on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Cabaret will work wonderfully in that space,” said Jim Harris, deputy director of the Santa Monica Pier Corp. “For years the pier has been trying to expand its programming to include a variety of arts, and the one area that’s been lacking is theatre.”
Sand plans to transform the space with murals on canvass commissioned for the cabaret and special lighting and a live band. Sand, who will direct and performer in the show, brought in Weill expert Michael Roth as music director. Joining Sand on stage will be Megan Rippey, Shay Astar and Sol Mason, who plays the narrator.
In addition to the standard “Mack the Knife,” the show will include “Pirate Jenny” and “Barbara Song” from “Threepenny Opera,” a Weill-Brecht collaboration; “Surabaya Johnny” and “Luck Song,” also known as “The Insufficiency of Human Behavior.”
The finale will be “The Alabama Song” from “Mahagonny,” which was popularized by The Doors on the Venice-based band’s first album. Also written with Brecht, the song will be performed by the entire company.
Sand has had a long and impressive career on stage and in film and television, appearing in dozens of television shows and a few movies dating back to the 1980s, including “Taxi,” St. Elsewhere,” “The X Files” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
His career took off after winning a Tony Award in 1971 for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for his work on Broadway in “Paul Sill’s Story Theatre.”
That led to the guest role of the Tax man, the boyfriend role in “The Mary Tyler Show,” then as the star of the CBS sitcom, “Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers.”
“After that I spent years being everybody’s boyfriend, from Mary Tyler Moore to Carol Burnett to all the brilliant funny ladies,” said Hall, who has “several productions in mind for our theater’s future.”
The West End Theatre is expected to seat between 50 to 60 people, depending on whether tables are included in the space.
“Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel” will open for one performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 6. Beginning December 13, performances will be held Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. The show will run through December 21, and could possibly see an extended run.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.thewestendtheatre.com or by calling (310) 425-8308.
Parking is available on the pier and at beach level, just north of the pier.