Bach in Leipzig Review - Wanted: A German Organist

Playwright Itamar Moses’s clever play has resurrected at the Lonny Chapman Theatre to the delight of music lovers and theatergoers. First produced at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York, in 2002, BACH AT LEIPZIG was later presented off-Broadway in 2005 and in southern California in 2006 and 2009. Clearly, there’s something special about this play, which has attracted audiences across the U.S.


Larry Eisenberg and Troy Whitaker - Photo by Drina Durazo

BACH AT LEIPZIG is based on a fact which has been expanded and woven into a complex, enjoyable, and fictionalized tale. Beloved organist Johann Kuhnau really played at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany, in the 18th century. When he died in 1722, a search was begun for his replacement (no kidding). In an era where patronage was almost the only way for a musician to make a living and a mark on the artistic community, the vacancy in Leipzig was a plum. The coveted prize attracted nearly every well-known organist/musician in Germany.


Mikel Parraga-Wills and Lloyd Pedersen - Photo by Drina Durazo

BACH IN LEIPZIG leaps from fact (the musicians who made the trek to Leipzig) to fantasy as the story of these seven aspiring applicants unfolds. Little is known about the lives of the men who showed up for the audition, including Fasch (Chris Winfield), Lenck (Troy Whitaker), Kaufmann (Lloyd Pedersen), Graupner (Todd Andrew Ball), Schott (Larry Eisenberg), and Steindorff (Mikel Parraga-Wills). Happily, playwright Moses has managed to fill in the blanks with what might have happened during this contentious competition, where there was a “no-holds-barred” approach to winning. Plans abound for bribery, blackmail, kidnapping, and any sort of betrayal which would advance one applicant over another. In other words, nothing was sacred when it came to grabbing Thomaskirche’s organ. As these devious men try to out-think and out-maneuver each other, their increasingly idiotic machinations make for a chorus of belly laughs which evolves into broad physical humor and pratfalls.


Chris Winfield and Larry Eisenberg - Photo by Drina Durazo

Veteran director Calvin Remsberg keeps the action moving in this quasi-intellectual romp through quasi-history. Even if the characters don’t seem to be very enlightened in this Age of Enlightenment. The skilled cast makes a formidable ensemble, especially considering all the lines and physical movement which are called for. One would have wished that this talented group would have slowed down just a bit to highlight some very funny lines which were lost as they steam-rolled on. Sometimes empty space may have value, especially in a farce - where timing is everything.


Todd Andrew Ball - Photo by Drina Durazo

J. Kent Inasy’s scenic and lighting design feel a trifle grand for the exterior of a medieval church. Special kudos to A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costume design and Steve Shaw’s sound design. After all, a period piece needs to sound and look like a musician’s view of the 18th century. Adam Conn’s fight choreography was also impressive; he manages to keep seven men sparring at the same time in a very small space. 


BACH AT LEIPZIG runs through May 1, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $25 (students/seniors with identification $20). For reservations, call 818-763-5990 or go online at

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