There’s a Kurt Weill musical currently playing at New York City Center. It’s well cast and smartly produced (if clearly on a budget). There is some playful choreography and attractive costuming. It sounds great, particularly the pit musicians, who are making use of a recent critical edition of Weill’s score.
But it goes only through Saturday afternoon.
If that seems a criminally short run for “Lady in the Dark,” a “musical play” with book by Moss Hart, lyrics by Ira Gershwin and some of Weill’s best Broadway-period music, the blame doesn’t fall to the MasterVoices chorus, which is presenting the work, or its artistic director Ted Sperling, who conducts and directs sharply.
Instead, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scheduling may well reflect the difficulties of putting on “Lady in the Dark,” which combines elements of operetta, swinging mid-20th-century Americana, dramatic theater, and the sweet sentimentality of Golden Age Broadway.
That genre alchemy — which can turn out more of a genre muddle — isn’t the only reason this show was last seen in New York in 1994. The gender politics of the underlying story also present a hurdle. At its 1941 premiere, the psychoanalytic-theme plot — in which Liza Elliott, a fashion magazine editor, goes to pieces over a romantic quandary, requiring the services of Dr. Brooks — came off as daring. (Most of the music occurs as Liza either recounts or experiences dream states.)
Today, the limitations of Dr. Brooks’s patriarchal views on femininity are more plainly obvious. One possible fix: Cast a woman in this speaking role. MasterVoices has followed this advice, with Amy Irving as a sympathetic, occasionally wry Dr. Brooks. (The text has also been lightly adapted by Christopher Hart and Kim Kowalke.)
But a performance of “Lady in the Dark” rises or falls with its Liza — and Victoria Clark is consistently engaging. While she initially seems a touch too tentative, even her more tremulous moments manage to carry a sense of dramatic purpose. When Liza’s subconscious is merely playing at high-society confidence during the first dream sequence’s hit number, “One Life to Live,” she used some vibrato affectations to underline the posh pretension.
Later, with Liza approaching a greater sense of self-awareness, Ms. Clark nailed a brassier tone during a vivacious rendition of “The Saga of Jenny.” Following David Pittu’s sassy, nimble blitz through the tongue-twisting “Tschaikowsky,” this sequence created a sense of strutting delirium that made clear why the show was a hit in the first place. Members of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s had the music sounding idiomatically Weill: suave-then-tart, swinging lightly but not weakly. The MasterVoices chorus was admirably crisp.
The reputation of “Lady in the Dark” is that it’s overlong — and it can feel baggy. But the undeniable strangeness of the way it hangs together also has an unusual appeal. And hearing Weill’s original orchestration is a major draw in a thoughtful production.
Some good news, though this “Lady” run is unconscionably brief: Those on a Weill high can look forward to a production of his “Street Scene,” with a text by Langston Hughes and Elmer Rice, at Mannes Opera next weekend.
Lady in the Dark
Through Saturday at New York City Center, Manhattan; 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org.
Source: Read Full Article