Streets of Berlin

Writers - Sherman/Lowe/Mitchell
Unreleased (2006)

American playwright Martin Sherman's 1978 drama Bent was among the first artistic productions of any type to deal with the Nazi persecution of gay men in 1930s Germany. It's original 1979 Broadway production featured the song "Streets of Berlin" with lyrics by Sherman and music composed by Stanley Silverman. But subsequent productions have often set Sherman's lyrics to new music, such as the 1997 film adaptation (starring Clive Owen and featuring Ian McKellen in a comparatively small but important role) with new music for the song by the famed composer Philip Glass. This game of compositional "musical chairs," so to speak, continued with a new London stage production that debuted in September 2006, for which director Daniel Kramer contacted the Pet Shop Boys about once again composing entirely new music for the song. However, as the official Pet Shop Boys website so aptly put it, Neil was already himself "ironically in the streets of Berlin working on Rufus Wainwright's new album," for which he was serving in a sort of "consulting producer" capacity. So Chris decided to write the music without Neil's help in early August 2006.

Chris shares the music composing credit with Irish theatrical songwriter Conor Mitchell, who also wrote additional music for that particular production of Bent. We don't have any information at this time, however, regarding precisely how they shared this task—that is, what the division of compositional labor was.

To date, this new music for the song has not (as far as I know) aired in any format beyond the 2006 the London stage run. In the meantime, the best I can do is refer to the 1997 film, in which the song, with Glass's melody, is set in a gay bar and performed by a drag queen portrayed by none other than Mick Jagger! Sherman's lyrics at once offer bitterly ironic (there's that word again!) commentary on several points: the "shadow existence" of gay life of the period, the all-too-often fleeting nature of gay love relationships at the time, and—in a bit of obvious but no less effectively dramatic foreboding—the impending rounding up of homosexuals for deportation to concentration camps:

Streets of Berlin, will you miss me?
Streets of Berlin, do you care?
Streets of Berlin, will you cry out
If I vanish into thin air?

It certainly would be interesting to hear the music that Chris co-composed for this period piece. Let's hope it eventually sees some official recorded release so that more than just a select group of West End theatre patrons will ever hear it!

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