Succumbing to pier pressure: Tony winner Paul Sand turns his lifelong connection to a Santa Monica landmark into a cabaret tribute to composer Kurt Weill
By Michael Aushenker
If it weren’t for his parents’ chance meeting on the Santa Monica Pier, Paul Sand wouldn’t exist.
And now the Tony-winning actor, whose lengthy résumé includes roles on classic TV programs such as “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Taxi,” is returning the favor by giving the pier its theatrical birth — namely, a pop-up cabaret devoted to the songs of composer Kurt Weill.
“I’m looking at the pier now,” Sand said over the telephone from his Ocean Park condo between performances of his “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel.”
Sand, who won his Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play in 1971 for his role in “Paul Sill’s Story Theatre” on Broadway, explained his strong existential connections with the pier.
“My parents met on the pier at a dance. I took my first steps as an infant on the pier,” said Sand. “I lived with my first girlfriend in an apartment over the merry-go-round” — in a turret where, for a summer, the calliope drove them bats.
“We thought we could will it to break. We would shout, ‘Break! Break! Break!’ Then it would stop and we were scared. We thought we had some kind of power,” he said.
Although they lived in Silver Lake, the Sanchez family (Sand is his stage name) would summer in a small shack along one of the alleyways leading down to the pier.
For Sand, a walk along the pier for is like strolling down memory lane, and it was during one of those walks that he became inspired to repurpose an underutilized corner at the end of the pier into his pop-up presentation.
“Three months ago, I was literally taking a walk on the pier and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great place for Kurt Weill’s songs of murder and revenge?’”
Take “Mack the Knife”: “It’s the waterfront and it’s danger, and I thought ‘What a good match!’”
Sand, who also guest starred on “The X-Files” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” subsequently received an arts grant from the Judith McBean Foundation. He then contacted Jim Harris, deputy director of the Santa Monica Pier Corp., who enthusiastically embraced Sand’s idea for a Weill tribute.
Utilizing canvases with backdrops painted by Marie Lalanne, Sand transforms the observation deck next to Mariasol Restaurant into homage to Weill, the German-Jewish composer known for his collaborations with Bertolt Brecht on “Threepenny Opera” (including “Mack the Knife”) as well as “The Alabama Song” for the play “Mahagonny.”
Sand, who produces and directs “Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel,” performs alongside Megan Rippey, Shay Astar and Sol Mason (as the narrator). Santa Monica resident Michael Roth serves as music director, and Sand, who croons the numbers “Forgiveness” and “The Call From the Grave,” said he and his cast perform the songs sans segues.
“I call it Kurt Weill’s greatest hits,” Sand said of the 10 tunes he handpicked.
What attracts the actor to Weill’s music is “basically, the theatrics of it and the spookiness,” he said.
Despite popular recognition of a few Weill songs (including a cover of “The Alabama Song” by The Doors), Sand said the composer remains an underrated musical figure waiting to be rediscovered.
“These are deep, angry songs,” Sand said. “This generation will really like it.”
“Kurt Weill at the Cuttlefish Hotel” continues at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and 20 (Fridays) and at 9 p.m. on Dec. 14 and 20 (Saturdays) next to Mariasol Restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier. Tickets are $20, and parking is available on the pier and at beach level north of the pier. For more information, call (310) 425-8308 or visit thewestendtheatre.com.