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Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson Collaborations Celebrated in New York

Kurt Weill's stage collaborations with Maxwell Anderson are being celebrated in New York this winter with rare back-to-back productions of Knickerbocker Holiday and Lost in the Stars.

In conjunction with the performances, a symposium entitled "Kurt Weill + Maxwell Anderson: Collaboration in Musical Theatre" will be held on February 4, 2011, at 5 pm at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center in Manhattan, 365 Fifth Avenue (at 34th Street). Presented by CUNY Graduate Center in association with the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, panelists will include theater and music scholars Stephen Hinton, Elmar Juchem, and Kim H. Kowalke. David Savran will moderate. Admission is free and open to the public.

The Collegiate Chorale presents Knickerbocker Holiday in concert on January 25 and 26 at Alice Tully Hall, featuring Victor Garber (Stuyvesant), Ben Davis (Brom), Kelli O'Hara (Tina), Bryce Pinkham (Washington Irving), David Garrison (Tienhoven) and Christopher Fitzgerald (Tenpin). The production is directed by Ted Sperling and conducted by James Bagwell with The Collegiate Chorale and the American Symphony Orchestra. The performance will be captured on CD by Sh-k-Boom/Ghostlight Records.

A week later, February 3-6, New York City Center Encores! presents Lost in the Stars, directed by Gary Griffin and choreographed by Chase Brock, with music direction by Rob Berman. The cast features Chuck Cooper (Stephen Kumalo), Daniel Breaker (Absalom Kumalo), Patina Miller (Linda), Sherry Boone (Irina), Daniel Gerroll (James Jarvis), Sharon Washington (Grace Kumalo), John Douglas Thompson (John Kumalo), Kieran Campion (Arthur Jarvis), Ted Sutherland (Edward Jarvis), Jeremy Gumbs (Alex), and Quentin Earl Darrington (Leader).

Knickerbocker Holiday premiered on Broadway on October 19, 1938, starring Walter Huston as Peter Stuyvesant, and ran for 168 performances. Based on Washington Irving's A History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker, the musical is set in 17th-century Manhattan, where a roguish Dutch council awaits the arrival of their new governor, Peter Stuyvesant. A young independent thinker named Brom--who happens to be in love with Stuyvesant's intended--challenges Stuyvesant's autocracy, and their contest of wills creates a broadly comic, satirical fable pitting totalitarianism against democracy. As with much of Weill's work, Knickerbocker Holiday defies the usual categories, blending American popular music with the European operetta traditions of Offenbach and Gilbert & Sullivan. The score yielded the popular standards "It Never Was You" and "September Song," Weill's first American hit.

A decade later, Weill and Anderson adapted Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country into their musical tragedy Lost in the Stars. An uncompromising social indictment of apartheid South Africa, the piece dramatizes the story of two aging men, a black country parson and a separatist white British planter, who are brought together by a shared grief. The score, one of Weill's most polystylistic, contains operatic arias, chorales, blues, folk music, and pop tunes, and makes abundant use of the chorus (representing the blacks and whites of Johannesburg) to comment upon the action and propel the story forward. It includes "Stay Well," "Trouble Man," and the haunting title song. Lost in the Stars opened on Broadway on October 30, 1949, starring Todd Duncan and Inez Matthews, and ran for 281 performances. In 1958, Julius Rudel brought the work to City Opera in a production at City Center that featured Shirley Verrett and Lawrence Winters. A Broadway revival in 1972 featured Brock Peters, who also starred in the 1974 film.

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was one of the most versatile and influential theater composers of the 20th century. Born in Germany, he rose to fame with The Threepenny Opera and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. He fled Berlin in 1933 and two years later settled in the United States, where he wrote scores for several Broadway shows, including Johnny Johnson, Knickerbocker Holiday, Lady in the Dark, One Touch of Venus, Street Scene, and Lost in the Stars.

Maxwell Anderson (1888-1959) was one of the most prolific and prestigious playwrights of the 1920s-40s. He received the Pulitzer Prize for his 1933 political drama Both Your Houses and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for his plays Winterset and High Tor. Anderson was a founding member of the Playwrights' Company.

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If you'd like more information about this topic, please contact Kate Chisholm, Kurt Weill Foundation, at (212) 505-5240 or kchisholm@kwf.org.