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Lady in the Dark

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

Work Details


Full Evening, 65 minutes music

First Broadway Production

23 January 1941, New York, Alvin Theater, Moss Hart, dir., Maurice Abravanel, cond. (545 performances)

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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 (), while her maid can’t keep up with all the invitations from the glitterati (). Her chauffeur Beekman whisks her to a swanky nightclub; at Columbus Circle she stops to address the crowd (). At the club, she is showered with admiration (). 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 (). 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 (). Charley and Randy take turns dancing with Liza, whereupon the children’s tune comes back, reminding Liza of a school play from her childhood (). 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 : Liza Elliott’s neuroses. After a , 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 (). Russell interjects a dizzying catalogue of the names of fifty Russian composers (). Then he calls Liza to the stand. Liza defends herself with the tale of a girl who was too decisive (). 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 (); 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.

  • Oh Fabulous One
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  • Huxley
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  • One Life to Live
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  • The Girl of the Moment
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  • Mapleton High Chorale
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  • This is New
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  • The Princess of Pure Delight
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  • The Greatest Show on Earth
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  • Dance of the Tumblers
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  • The Best Years of His Life
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  • Tschaikowsky
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  • The Saga of Jenny
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  • My Ship
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  • 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
    • Non-Singing Roles

      • Dr. Brooks
      • Miss Bowers
      • Miss Stevens
      • Maggie Grant
      • Alison Du Bois
      • Office boys
      • Models
      • Children
      • Dancers
  • Instrumentation

    • Flute (picc)
    • Reed 1 (cl, alto sax)
    • Reed 2 (cl, bass cl, alto sax, bar. sax)
    • Reed 3 (cl, ten. sax, ob)
    • 3 Trumpets
    • 1 Trombone
    • Hammond organ
    • Piano
    • Timpani & percussion
    • Strings (without violas)

  • German

    • Roman Hinze
    • Marianne Schubart & Karl Vibach
    • Maria Teichs

  • Symphonic Nocturne from Lady in the Dark 1949

    Concert suite arranged by Robert Russell Bennett.

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