Lost in the Stars (1949)

Musical tragedy in two acts after Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country.
Book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recordings
Press Clippings
An Appreciation
Essay on Lost in the Stars by Kim H. Kowalke

Design for backdrop

Sketch of backdrop for Broadway production, 1949.

Performance Information

Cast: singing roles -- Leader (tenor or high baritone), Stephen Kumalo (baritone), Linda (singer-dancer), Irina (mezzo-soprano), Alex (boy soprano), white and black SATB choruses.
speaking and other roles -- Grace Kumalo, Absalom Kumalo, John Kumalo, Matthew Kumalo, James Jarvis, Arthur Jarvis, Edward Jarvis, judge, guard, policeman, townspeople, villagers.
Orchestra: Reed 1 (cl, alto sax, fl), Reed 2 (cl, ten. sax, ob, Eng hn), Reed 3 (cl, bass cl, alto sax); tpt; piano (accordion), harp, timp & perc; 2 viola, 2 cello, bass.
Duration: full evening, 60 minutes music
Published Editions: piano-vocal score, Chappell and Co./Hal Leonard HL00312251
Performance Rights and Rentals: GER, AUST, SWIT: MB
Europe, except GER, AUST, SWIT: JW
All other territories: RH
Authorized translation: German--Lys Symonette
Original Production: October 30, 1949, New York, Music Box Theater, Rouben Mamoulian, dir., Maurice Levine, cond.

Guide to orchestration, territory abbreviations, and publishers' symbols.

Synopsis

by Mark N. Grant

Act One

In Ndotsheni, South Africa in the 1940s ("The Hills of Ixopo"), Rev. Stephen Kumalo, a black Anglican priest, has not heard from his son Absalom since he left to look for work in Johannesburg a year earlier. Though untroubled at heart ("Thousands of Miles"), he decides to search for Absalom there. At the railroad station ("Train to Johannesburg"), he is greeted by Arthur Jarvis, a white lawyer who is a benefactor of his church, though Arthur's father James, a wealthy planter, frowns upon any association between the races.

In Johannesburg, Stephen takes charge of his sister Gertrude's illegitimate son Alex. His brother John, a tobacconist and Zulu community organizer, tells him Absalom is no longer working in the mines. Stephen goes all over Soweto looking for Absalom ("The Search") by day, renting a hovel in Shantytown by night. He learns Absalom has served jail time but is on parole living with his pregnant girlfriend Irina. At night in his rented hut, Stephen promises little Alex that he will soon take him to Ndotsheni where he will live more comfortably ("The Little Gray House").

Absalom, his cousin Matthew (John's son), and their friend Johannes party at a dive in Shantytown with their girlfriends ("Who'll Buy"). To raise money to support his expected child, Absalom joins a burglary plot with the other two; there seems to be little risk, because Johannes knows the house well. Still, the other two insist that Absalom bring a gun. Irina tries to dissuade him, to no avail. Later Rev. Kumalo and a parole officer find Irina at her hut in Shantytown but she tells them she doesnít know where Absalom is. Stephen disdains her loose morals but makes an alliance with her to find Absalom and keep him out of further legal jeopardy ("Trouble Man").

Absalom, Matthew, and Johannes, faces concealed, break into the home late at night. But a servant there recognizes Johannes's voice; then the homeowner--Arthur Jarvis, Stephen's patron--unexpectedly appears. Absalom fires his gun in panic and kills him. The three men flee ("Murder in Parkwold"). Later, the parole officer visits the home and tells Arthur's grieving father James that the police have arrested Johannes; outside in the street both the black and white communities are in turmoil ("Fear!"). The parole officer conducts Stephen to Absalom's jail cell, thus finally reuniting father and son. Stephen doesn't believe Absalom could be guilty of the crime, but Absalom confesses. Back in his Shantytown hut, Stephen struggles to explain all the bad news in a letter to his wife back in Ndotsheni. He prays to Tixo (God) fervently, but finds his bedrock faith shaken ("Lost in the Stars").

Act Two

The Chorus sings of "The Wild Justice" that seems to thwart the impulses of civility.

John Kumalo tells Stephen a good lawyer can get all three men off, but only if they conform their alibis. However, Absalom wants to "go straight" to make it up to his father. Stephen is anguished by this dilemma ("O Tixo, Tixo, Help Me!"). He decides to try to plead for mercy with the dead man's father, James Jarvis. He tells him that Absalom has confessed and that he fired his gun accidentally. Could Jarvis intervene so Absalom would receive a life sentence instead of death? Jarvis sternly refuses.

Meanwhile, in her long absence from Absalom, Irina's affection for him has only deepened, despite the trouble he's brought her ("Stay Well"). She tells Stephen that she repents of her ways and will wait for Absalom no matter how long he's in prison.

At the murder trial Johannes and Matthew both lie, offering shaky alibis. Absalom implicates the two of them and admits his own guilt, but says the gun was only meant to frighten the servant of the house. Yet the judge acquits Matthew and Johannes and sentences Absalom to death. As the Chorus keens ("Cry, the Beloved Country"), Stephen marries Absalom and Irina in the prison cell.

Stephen returns home to Ndotsheni with Irina and Alex to wait out the judicial appeal. One day little Alex is overheard singing ("Big Mole") by young Edward Jarvis. James Jarvis arrives to pick up his grandson and chides him for talking to Alex. Since the murder James's wife has also died and now he is left to take care of his orphaned grandson alone. But before they leave he overhears Stephen's voice from the pulpit inside his church and he decides to listen. Stephen is telling his congregation he must resign his pastorate, not only because they have lost their benefactor, not only because his own son has killed, but because Stephen has lost his own faith. His parishioners protest but resign themselves to the transience of life ("Bird of Passage").

The appeals have failed and the execution looms. At dawn Stephen, his wife Grace, and Irina await the dreaded hour when Absalom will be hanged far away in Pretoria ("Four O'Clock"). Suddenly James Jarvis knocks on the door. He has had a profound conversion. He tells Stephen he will step in for everything his son did to support Stephen's church and beseeches Stephen to stay on. Moreover, "I shall come and worship in your church if I wish to worship . . . Edward will come tomorrow to see Alex. He wants to come and play."

Stephen agrees to stay on. The clock strikes four. Jarvis puts his arm around Stephen. They have become comrades in both grief and hope ("Thousands of Miles" reprise).

Song list

The Hills of Ixopo
Thousands of Miles
Train to Johannesburg
The Search
The Little Gray House
Who'll Buy?
Trouble Man
Murder in Parkwold
Fear!
Lost in the Stars
The Wild Justice
O Tixo, Tixo, Help Me!
Stay Well
Cry, the Beloved Country
Big Mole
A Bird of Passage
Four O'Clock

Recordings

MCA CD MCAD 10302; Decca Broadway CD 0881 10302-2 Todd Duncan, Original Cast, Maurice Levine, cond.
Word LP CS-5117-LP Eugene Holmes, Gladys Scott, Robert Honeysucker, Tougaloo College Music Department, Dora Wilson, piano (excerpts, with piano)
MusicMasters Classics CD 01612-67100-2
reissued on Musical Heritage 5171577
reissued on Nimbus NI 2543
Arthur Woodley, Gregory Hopkins, Cynthia Clarey, Carol Woods, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Concert Chorale of New York, Julius Rudel, cond.

Press Clippings

"A work of truth, beauty and immense artistry. . . . a triumphant piece of theater."
--Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune, 1949

"Triumphant and deeply moving . . . theater at its best."
--Theater, 1949

"A masterwork. Its musical score by Kurt Weill, making generous use of full choruses, is powerful and exciting . . . . Lost in the Stars is a synthesis of song and drama such as you are not likely to have encountered before . . . . A theatrical event of major importance."
--John Hobart, San Francisco Chronicle, 1950

"Kurt Weill was the greatest composer ever to write for Broadway. Lost in the Stars is very moving . . . with a score of magisterial sweep. A distinguished and thrilling piece of musical theater."
--Clive Barnes, New York Times, 1972

"Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country is one of the great moral acts in literature. In his adaptation Anderson caught much of its power, anguish and dignity, and Weill's music is a treasure of our lyric theater . . . the best show of the Broadway season."
--Jack Kroll, Newsweek, 1972

"Kurt Weill was the greatest composer of theater songs of the century . . . . I am moved closer to tears by the title song of Lost in the Stars than by any other single song created for the American stage." --Alan Rich, New York Magazine, 1972

"The work remains remarkably moving. Paton's anguished vision of his country's divisions still strikes deep and Weill's score still soars."
--Walter Goodman, New York Times, 1988

"The score ranges from some sensuous ballads to a few lighthearted songs to a number of pieces so soaring, so powerful they seem like hymns . . . . A reminder of what great musical theater is."
--Howard Kissel, Daily News, 1988

"Weill's music lifts it onto the exalted plane of spiritual experience. Instead of the manufactured uplift of modern musicals, we are offered an overwhelming moral statement about our common humanity."
--Michael Billington, The Guardian, 1991

"Lost in the Stars proves to be a fresh and compelling piece of work. Weill's richly expansive score is one of the best he ever wrote for Broadway, while Maxwell Anderson's parable-like text is very effective.”
--Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal, 2009

"A masterpiece of articulate eloquence and solid structure that sidesteps obvious clichés . . . . The point of the show isn't to question individual faults, but how apartheid poisoned people. And the point of this revival is the music--evocative, lush and downright brilliant . . . . The repeated use of choral singing creates haunting effects, and Weill's original orchestrations alone are so intricate that you'd need a repeat visit to fully appreciate them . . . . Lost in the Stars may have a somber message, but when this kind of magic happens onstage, all feels right with the world--of theater, at least."
--Elizabeth Vincentelli, New York Post, 2011

"Contains some of [Weill's] most stirring and original work . . . . His music captures native dignity, the bustle of city life, and the plangent feelings of life under assault . . . . Anderson's lyrics, alternately gritty and poetic evocations of individual and collective souls, are ideal complements . . . . A masterful work that, even 61 years after its debut, cries out to be heard."
--Matthew Murray, Talkin' Broadway, 2011

"Packed with gorgeous and emotional musical moments . . . . [Weill's] most dramatically rich work. . . . Anderson's book and lyrics, in the style of musical dramas of the day, is filled with heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity and warm, simple poetry."
--Michael Dale, Broadway World, 2011

"The shattering story and seductive Weill score had me spellbound."
--John Simon, Uncensored John Simon, 2011

"Unbearably moving."
--Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 2012

"Powerful lyric theatre of the top tier."
--James Sohre, Opera Today, 2012

© 2012 The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music. All rights reserved.