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Love Life (1948)

Vaudeville in two acts.
Music and lyrics by Kurt Weill and Alan Jay Lerner.
Book by Alan Jay Lerner.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recordings
Press Clippings
An Appreciation

Photo of cast

The Cooper family: Front, Johnny (Johnny Stewart) and Elizabeth (Cheryl Archer).
Back, Susan (Nanette Fabray) and Sam (Ray Middleton).

Performance Information

Cast: Singing roles -- Susan Cooper (soprano/belt), Sam Cooper (bass baritone), Elizabeth Cooper, Johnny Cooper, Mary Jo, George Hamilton Beacon, Jonathan Anderson, Charlie, Hank, Will, Tim, three children, Slade, Boylan, Harvey, Leffcourt, Miss Horoscope (coloratura soprano), Miss Mysticism, Miss Ideal Man, Mr. Cynic, ensemble of vaudevillians, townspeople, minstrels.
Speaking roles -- Magician, Walt, Trapeze Artist, William Taylor, dancers.
Orchestra: Reed 1 (fl, cl, alto sax), Reed 2 (cl, bass cl, alto sax, fl), Reed 3 (cl, ten. sax, fl, picc), Reed 4 (cl, ten. sax, ob), Reed 5 (cl, bar. sax, bn); 3 tpt, tbn; guitar (banjo), piano (accordion), timp & perc; strings (without violas).
Duration: full evening, 110 minutes music
Performance Rights and Rentals: All territories: KWF
First Production: October 7, 1948, New York, 46th Street Theater, Elia Kazan, dir., Joseph Littau, cond.

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

Synopsis

by Mark N. Grant

Note: Alan Jay Lerner described Love Life as a cavalcade of American marriage. The unusual structure of the show alternates scenes chronicling the Cooper family’s progression through successive periods of American history starting in the 1790s with vaudeville-style acts that comment on the main story. The two types of scenes do not overlap until the end of Part II. The Coopers’ ages do not change noticeably despite the 150-year lapse of time.

Part I

The curtain rises on a magic show. The magician saws a woman in half and levitates a man. The man and woman start a conversation. She points out that her current state reflects her whole life; her desires and responsibilities are always uncomfortably divided. "Where does that leave me?" asks the man. "Right where you are, in mid-air," she replies. We learn that the man and woman are married--unhappily--to each other.

The scene shifts to a small New England town in 1791. Curious townspeople gather around a new store ("Who Is Samuel Cooper?"). Sam, the levitated man from the previous scene, enters and gives an account of himself; he has moved with his wife, Susan, and two children, Johnny and Elizabeth, to the town from Boston to practice his carpentry trade. Sam tells Susan (previously sawed in half) that he never wants to leave their new home ("Here I'll Stay"). As the scene ends, a male octet assembles in front of the curtain to sing about the effects of economic development on human relationships ("Progress").

We return to New England in 1821. Factories dot the landscape, and Sam decides to close up shop and join the industrial labor force. Sam and Susan reminisce about the first chair he made for her ("I Remember It Well"). Susan asks Sam to join her at the springtime dance ("Green-Up Time"), but Sam has to work late in the shop. Next a male quartet sings about the conflicts between love and money ("Economics"). Then--in a number dropped from the original Broadway production but commonly performed in revivals--they take a sympathetic look at Susan's actual life contrasted with her longings ("Susan's Dream").

Now it's 1857 and the Coopers have moved. Sam is about to go to work for the railroad. Susan fears that he will be away from home all the time and tells him she wants another child, but Sam puts her off. As that scene ends, three children enter and comment on Susan's state of mind ("Mother's Getting Nervous"), which segues into a ragtime/Dixieland-style dance as a trapeze artist performs overhead.

Next we see the Coopers in the early 1890s. Sam relaxes on the front porch ("My Kind of Night"). But as Johnny and Elizabeth wonder when Susan will get home from her suffragettes' meeting, the lights fade out on Sam and come up on the women's rights rally. Susan and the suffragettes insist on equality for women ("Women's Club Blues"). Then a hobo comes out to sing his message that love, not progress or economics, is the only answer, but nobody listens ("Love Song").

The scene shifts to a New Year's Eve in the 1920s; Sam and Susan are on a Caribbean cruise. Sam spends his time shmoozing and proclaims that he will do anything to advance his business ("I'm Your Man"), while another businessman makes a pass at Susan. Then Sam himself is tempted by a young blonde. But Sam and Susan wind up together, rather sheepish and not particularly happy, as the evening ends.

Part II

New York City, 1948. Sam now works at a bank and Susan has taken a management job at a department store. One night in the Cooper apartment, Sam, Susan, Johnny, and Elizabeth are arguing about which radio program to listen to. Next, a chorus materializes and performs an Elizabethan-style a cappella madrigal about modern anxiety and neurosis ("Ho, Billy O!").

The radio argument scene resumes: Elizabeth has found Sam's unused ticket to the previous night's prizefight, which Sam claimed he had attended. The bickering between Sam and Susan escalates viciously. Susan wonders who's to blame for their marital troubles ("Is It Him or Is It Me?"), but finally she and Sam decide to get a divorce. The proceedings play out in a satiric ballet scene done in commedia dell'arte style ("Punch and Judy Get a Divorce"). Sam moves into a hotel room, where he exults in his newfound bachelor freedoms, though he also misses his kids and has moments of loneliness ("This is the Life").

The final scene is an old-fashioned minstrel show in which the interlocutor and minstrels review some foolish responses to love and marriage ("We're Sellin' Sunshine"): using astrology to find the right mate ("Madame Zuzu"), ignoring love altogether ("Takin' No Chances"), and insisting on unattainable perfection, which inspires Susan to sing about her own ideal man ("Mr. Right"). But when the interlocutor and minstrels urge them to face reality, Susan and Sam, now freed of illusion and determined to make their marriage work, inch toward each other on a tightrope as the curtain falls.

Song list

Who is Samuel Cooper?
My Name is Samuel Cooper
Here I'll Stay
Progress
I Remember It Well
Green-Up Time
Economics
Susan's Dream
Mother's Getting Nervous
My Kind of Night
Women's Club Blues
Love Song
I'm Your Man
Madrigal - "Ho, Billy O!"
Is It Him or Is It Me?
This is the Life
The Minstrel Show - We're Sellin' Sunshine
Madame Zuzu
Takin' No Chances
Mr. Right

Recordings

DRG CD DRG 5246 Alan Jay Lerner, Kaye Ballard, et al. (excerpts with piano)
EMI Classics CD 7243 5 55563 2 5 Kurt Weill on Broadway, Thomas Hampson, London Sinfonietta, John McGlinn, cond. (excerpts)

 

Press Clippings

"A dream of a show about the American dream; sentimental, hopeful, satirical, ironic and even bitter . . . All the illusions, the errors, the faults which have punctured the American dream of domestic bliss are exposed in hilarity and high spirits."
--Boston Post, 1948

"Love Life is the most intelligent and adult musical yet offered on the American stage . . . a sheer delight . . . Alan Jay Lerner's book and lyrics represent a sharp advance over any work he has yet done for the theater. Kurt Weill has written a knowing and a glowing score."
--New York Telegraph, 1948

"There is an air of high theatrical inventiveness and originality about it . . . A lively and fairly provocative springboard for a show that combines some of the best features of vaudeville, the revue, the dance, the ballad and the girl-and-music show."
--New York Post, 1948

"Novel, imaginative . . . enthralling."
--New York News Record, 1948

"The missing link between the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals of the '40s, and the Harold Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Michael Bennett 'concept' musicals of the '60s and '70s . . . Love Life contains the great lost score from what is probably the American musical's greatest decade, the '40s . . . Weill's music for Love Life is as ravishing and unique as is his work for Lady in the Dark, Street Scene, One Touch of Venus, and Lost in the Stars."
--TheaterWeek, 1990

"The best numbers combine lyrical catchiness with the keen harmonic and instrumental inventions that give Weill's music its distinctive, 'insidious' quality . . . . Love Life is emphatically a Broadway show."
--The New Yorker, 1990

"Lerner's libretto is sharp, knowing, at times unsparingly bitter, but Weill's music oozes with compassion for frail, fragile humanity . . . a powerful combination."
--Times of London, 1996

"For Love Life Weill was inspired to produce some of his finest Broadway music."
--Opera Now, 1996

See also "Madrigal: Ho, Billy, O!".