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Kurt Weill

Lady in the Dark

SubtitleMusical play in two acts
Text informationMusic and lyrics by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin; Book by Moss Hart
Year(s) composed1940
PublisherEAMC
Instrumentationfl (picc), Reed 1 (cl, alto sax), Reed 2 (cl, bass cl, alto sax, bar. sax), Reed 3 (cl, ten. sax, ob); 3 tpt, 1 tbn; Hammond organ, piano, timp & perc; strings (without violas)
DurationFull evening, 65 minutes music
Movements

Song list:

Glamour Dream // Oh Fabulous One // Huxley // One Life to Live // The Girl of the Moment // Wedding Dream // Mapleton High Chorale // This is New // The Princess of Pure Delight // Circus Dream // The Greatest Show on Earth // Dance of the Tumblers // The Best Years of His Life // Tschaikowsky // The Saga of Jenny // Childhood Dream // My Ship
PremiereFirst production: January 23, 1941, New York, Alvin Theater, Moss Hart, dir., Maurice Abravanel, cond.
LanguageEnglish (adaptation)
Authorized translationsGerman -- Marianne Schubart & Karl Vibach; Maria Teichs
Synopsis

Synopsis by Mark N. Grant

Act I

New York, ca. 1940. Fashion magazine editor Liza Elliott has suffered from unexplained panic attacks and depression for months. Despite misgivings, she visits a psychoanalyst. As Liza--dressed primly and without makeup--stretches out on the couch, she hears the melody of a children's song ("My Ship") that has been haunting her.

Suddenly we are swept into the through-sung Glamour Dream, featuring characters from Liza's office. Twelve tuxedoed swains serenade Liza, now in evening attire, as the most glamorous woman in the world ("Oh Fabulous One"), while her maid can't keep up with all the invitations from the glitterati ("Huxley"). Her chauffeur Beekman whisks her to a swanky nightclub; at Columbus Circle she stops to address the crowd ("One Life to Live"). At the club, she is showered with admiration ("Girl of the Moment"). A U.S. Marine, as directed by the President, paints her portrait for a new postage stamp. But when he unveils it, it is a picture of the prim, businesslike Liza. She screams and awakens suddenly on Dr. Brooks's couch. He points out the paradox that Liza rejects glamor for herself, yet makes her living promoting glamor for other women.

In Liza's office at Allure magazine, photographer Russell Paxton is organizing a fashion shoot with movie star Randy Curtis while advertising manager Charley Johnson, whom Liza cordially detests, banters impudently with her. Enter Allure's publisher, Kendall Nesbitt, Liza's long-time boyfriend (he is married to another woman), who announces that he is getting a divorce. He is alarmed by Liza's panicked reaction. Randy asks Liza to dinner the following night. She absent-mindedly accepts, but, still shaken, retreats to her private office and begins to hum the tune again.

Suddenly the Wedding Dream takes over the stage. Liza's fellow high-school graduates recall her as she was in school ("Mapleton High Chorale"). Her fiancé Kendall takes Liza to buy a wedding ring from Charley. But the ring is a dagger and Liza recoils. Now Randy emerges as a mythic figure from history to court the enraptured Liza ("This Is New"). Charley and Randy take turns dancing with Liza, whereupon the children's tune comes back, reminding Liza of a school play from her childhood ("The Princess of Pure Delight"). Liza's office desk momentarily reappears but then morphs into a church for Liza's wedding day. Charley, now a minister, asks if anyone knows why Kendall and Liza should not be married. The chorus says that Liza does not love Kendall; Liza insists she does, and there the dream ends.

Liza returns to Dr. Brooks. After a contentious session, Dr. Brooks suggests that she is refusing to compete for men with other women, and she storms out, breaking off the therapy. At her office, Kendall presses her, but she still refuses to marry him. Charley suggests to Liza a circus theme for the cover of the Easter issue, but they quarrel again; this time he resigns from the magazine. Randy shows up for their dinner date, and they go out together.

Act II

The next day, Liza is still moping in her office, unable to decide on a magazine cover. As she hears imaginary voices chiding her, including those of Kendall, Charley, and Randy, the office suddenly turns into a Circus Dream, with ringmaster Russell and chorus presenting "The Greatest Show on Earth": Liza Elliott's neuroses. After a "Dance of the Tumblers," the circus turns into a courtroom, and Liza is charged with being unable to make up her mind. Charley is the prosecutor, Randy the defense attorney, and Kendall the chief witness ("The Best Years of His Life"). Russell interjects a dizzying catalogue of the names of fifty Russian composers ("Tschaikowsky"). Then he calls Liza to the stand. Liza defends herself with the tale of a girl who was too decisive ("The Saga of Jenny"). But just when she thinks she's triumphed, the jury hums the mysterious tune and scares her out of her wits.

The dream ends and suddenly Liza is in Dr. Brooks's office. The Circus Dream has reminded her of the humiliation she felt as a child. A series of flashbacks without music ensues. Liza's father announces that he's happy Liza is plain and not beautiful like her mother. A boy refuses to act the prince in a grade school play if Liza is the princess. When she is ten Liza's mother dies, but Liza does not grieve. A handsome boy asks her out, and at last she recalls in its entirety the tune which has been haunting her ("My Ship"); then she learns he has chosen another girl. With Dr. Brooks's help, Liza begins to find the roots of her unhappiness in her childhood traumas.

A week later, a much calmer Liza arrives in her office. Charley, who has already given notice, surprises Liza by asking her out to dinner. Kendall appears and tells Liza he accepts her decision to leave him. Randy enters and proposes to Liza, but she is too stunned to respond. Charley returns to tell her he will not apologize for his insults. To his surprise, she asks him to stay on at Allure as co-editor--and hints at romance as well. Liza begins humming "My Ship" and Charley cheerfully joins in. Curtain.

RolesSinging roles -- Liza Elliott (soprano), Miss Foster, as Sutton in Dream 1 (mezzo-soprano), Russell Paxton, as Beekman in Dream 1, as Ringmaster in Dream 3 (baritone), Kendall Nesbitt, as Pierre in Dream 1, as Witness in Dream 3, Charley Johnson, as Marine in Dream 1, as Jewelry Salesman/Minister in Dream 2, as Prosecuting Attorney in Dream 3 (baritone), Randy Curtis, as Defense Attorney in Dream 3 (baritone), ensemble.

Speaking roles -- Dr. Brooks, Miss Bowers, Miss Stevens, Maggie Grant, Alison Du Bois, office boys, models, children, dancers.

Kurt Weill Foundation work page

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