It’s back! The spectacularly successful production that awed critics and audiences at Glimmerglass in 2012 lands at Washington National Opera in February 2016. Producer Francesca Zambello has brought director Tazewell Thompson, conductor John DeMain, and principal cast members Eric Owens, Sean Panikkar, and Wynn Harmon to the Kennedy Center for a short but power-packed revival: nine performances in nine days. Based on Alan Paton’s enduring novel set at the dawn of apartheid in South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country, this musical tragedy by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson (book and lyrics) enjoyed a substantial run on Broadway from October 1949 through June 1950. The work was revived on Broadway in 1972 and enjoyed a renaissance during the eighties and early nineties, when apartheid was collapsing in South Africa; now veteran director Tazewell Thompson has applied his master’s touch and proven once and for all that this work resonates powerfully anywhere that discrimination and oppression remain.
Thompson first staged Lost in the Stars at Cape Town Opera in 2011, taking the work back to its South African roots. He followed that success with another at Glimmerglass in the summer of 2012. The production was the surprise hit of the festival, with stunning performances from bass-baritone Eric Owens and tenor Sean Panikkar. Both will take up their roles again in Washington, along with actor Wynn Harmon. Owens and Harmon play Rev. Stephen Kumalo and James Jarvis respectively, the protagonists who cross the racial divide and reconcile at the end of the play. Panikkar plays the Leader of the Chorus, which actually functions as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action and guiding the audience. The strong cast is rounded out by Cheryl Freedman (Linda), Manu Kumasi (Absalom), and last year’s First Prize Winner in the Lotte Lenya Competition, Lauren Michelle (Irina).
The WNO production benefits from two KWF programs, in addition to receiving a grant. Adam Turner, Inaugural Julius Rudel/Kurt Weill Conducting Fellow, is assisting John DeMain; and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation has designated two Kurt Weill Observers–Jenny Bennett and Alison Moritz–sponsored by the Kurt Weill Foundation, to observe Tazewell Thompson during preparations for the production.
One reviewer after another singled out Lost in the Stars as a highlight of the 2012 Glimmerglass season, and there is every reason to believe it will be as big a hit in 2016, with the principal cast members and creative personnel all returning. Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal regarded it as the “high point” of the summer festival; David Shengold called it the “main triumph” of the “best Glimmerglass season in years” in Opera. Both critics marveled at Eric Owens; Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times alluded to his “unbearably moving” portrayal of Stephen Kumalo. Francesca Zambello summed up the audience response to the 2012 production by saying, “Hundreds . . . came up to me and said they were convinced, changed, transformed, transported by it.”
Lost in the Stars opens at the Kennedy Center on 12 February 2016. On 31 January in New York, the Guggenheim Museum features the production in its “Works & Process” series, with a panel discussion bolstered by Zambello and Thompson and performances of songs from the show by cast members. The “Seeing Deeper” series at Washington National Cathedral focuses on Lost in the Stars, with guests from the production and the former Ambassador from South Africa, on 3 February.
Washington National Opera press release
Blog post by Tazewell Thompson
“Works & Process” program at the Guggenheim Museum
“Seeing Deeper” program at Washington National Cathedral
Preview concert at Washington National Opera (video)
Interview with Manu Kumasi
Promotional video from Washington National Opera
Feature on Lost in the Stars from Fall 2015 Kurt Weill Newsletter
Learn more about Lost in the Stars
Baltimore Sun (Tim Smith)
DC Theatre Scene (Susan Galbraith)
Bachtrack (Hilary Stroh)
MD Theatre Guide (Derek Schwabe)