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Lady in the Dark (1940)

Musical play in two acts.
Music and lyrics by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin.
Book by Moss Hart.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recordings
Press Clippings
An Appreciation

Scene photo from original production

Maggie Grant (Margaret Dale), Russell Paxton (Danny Kaye),
and Liza Elliott (Gertrude Lawrence), New York, 1941.

Performance Information

Cast: Singing 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.
Orchestra: fl (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).
Duration: full evening, 65 minutes music
Published Editions: piano-vocal score, Chappell Music Company/Hal Leonard HL00312238
Performance Rights and Rentals: GER, AUST, SWIT: MB
Europe, except GER, AUST, SWIT: JW
All other territories: RH
Authorized Translations: German -- Marianne Schubart & Karl Vibach; Maria Teichs
First production: January 23, 1941, New York, Alvin Theater, Moss Hart, dir., Maurice Abravanel, cond.

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

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.

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

Recordings

AEI 1146 CD reissue: AEI-CD003 Gertrude Lawrence, MacDonald Carey, Maurice Abravanel, cond. [excerpts]
CBS MK 44689 CD reissue: Sony MHK 62869 Risë Stevens, Adolph Green, Lehman Engel, cond. (CD reissue includes bonus tracks featuring Danny Kaye's recordings from 1941)
AEI CD 041 Ann Sothern, Carleton Carpenter, James Daly, Shepperd Strudwick (recorded from kinescope of television version; includes numbers not taken from the Broadway production or from original LP issue; bonus tracks feature Gertrude Lawrence's recordings from 1941)
Sepia CD 1052 Ann Sothern, Carleton Carpenter, James Daly, Shepperd Strudwick (television version; re-issue of LP recording, RCA Victor LM-1882)
JAY CDJAY 1278 Maria Friedman, James Dreyfus, Paul Shelley, and other members of the London cast, Mark W. Dorrell, conductor (complete score)
Prism CD PLATCD 999 reissue of 1941 recordings by Gertrude Lawrence and Danny Kaye ("The Broadway Musicals Series")

 

Also see Symphonic Nocturne from Lady in the Dark.

Press Clippings

"Uses the resources of the theater magnificently and tells a compassionate story triumphantly. . . . The finest score written for the theatre in years . . . Gershwin's lyrics are brilliant. A feast of plenty . . . a work of theater art."
--The New York Times, 1941

"A high point in the history of the American musical stage. It proves that a musical show can be both engrossing and magnificently entertaining without sacrificing high imagination, acute intelligence, superbly unified and thoroughly artistic production, and an underlying seriousness of purpose."
--Chicago Daily Tribune, 1943

"Though Lady in the Dark certainly is far more commercial entertainment than Threepenny, it is no less probing . . . . The subject--psychoanalysis--remains timely . . . . If you didn't know better, you might think the show had been written with the modern yuppie in mind."
--Chicago Tribune, 1989

"A witty book by Moss Hart, delicious lyrics by Ira Gershwin and a gorgeous score by Kurt Weill."
--New York Daily News, 1994

"It comes as a delightful shock to discover what a convincing musical play--complete with song and dance--Moss Hart, Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill made almost 60 years ago out of Freudian psychotherapy, dreams and a suitable case for treatment . . . . Lady in the Dark has lost none of its satirical sharpness at the expense of a New York high fashion magazine. 'My Ship' and much of the haunting music goes with a real period lilt. It swoons and smooches, yearns and saunters.”
--Evening Standard, 1997

"Weill's music is plangent and sinuous, a remarkable synthesis of Weimar jazz and pre-Sondheim querulousness."
--The Observer, 1997

"Lady in the Dark remains fascinating, its score one of the most intriguing of its period, with Gershwin contributing some of the finest stage lyrics, and Weill expanding the vocabulary of Broadway melody via his unique harmonies and rhythms."
--In Theatre, 1998

"The overwhelming effect of Lady in the Dark, still, 60 years later, is of startling originality."
–-Boston Globe, 2000

"In its scope and complexity of invention the score stands as one of the half-dozen finest ever composed for Broadway. No wonder Stravinsky admired it and Copland envied it. Lady has great tunes, snappy numbers, and hit songs, but it also burrows deep."
–-Boston Globe, 2000

"Its primal work-versus-love scenario is timeless. As are Weill's haunting music and Gershwin's witty lyrics."
--Philadelphia Inquirer, 2001

"Moss Hart's wry, playful, intelligent book, Ira Gershwin's wittily sophisticated lyrics and Kurt Weill's hauntingly gossamer melodies . . . the innovative 1941 Broadway hit is a multifaceted gem."
--San Francisco Chronicle, 2001

"One is astounded at how exactly this work fits our time.... It represents a daring experiment in form and an amalgam of classic Broadway melody, the harmonies of the Berlin Weill, and the emphasis of verismo."
--Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2011

"The story is really super--the whole craziness of the Vogue/Mode media world, with a heavy shot of psychoanalysis and burnout on top. It could hardly be more contemporary."
--Neue Presse, 2011

"The admittedly ambitious, extravagant Lady in the Dark has become the musical of the moment. . . . We hope this intelligent and sparkling Weill jewel will soon be seen in other productions."
--Die Welt, 2011