*Lady in the Dark,* 4/25/19
I saw *Lady in the Dark* at City Center on 4/25/19. It's a musical from 1941 with music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and a book by Moss Hart. I wanted to see it because I've loved Weill since the 80s (he had a major moment in the 80s) and don't know if I'll ever have another chance to see this show. Plus it was starring the glamorous Victoria Clark as the titular heroine.
Moss Hart was in psychoanalysis at the time and was interested in writing a show about the process. He invented the character of fashion editor Liza Elliott and dramatized her analysis. The structure of the show is (to my knowledge) unique: there are scenes with Liza and her analyst, which often go to Liza's office. These scenes are spoken, with no music - - no singing, no underscoring, no music. And these scenes lead into three dream sequences, which are 100% music, singing and dancing, full on musical theatre show biz hoo ha. It felt like the structure of the show supported and informed the theme: the dialogue sequences showed Liza in her unglamorous black and white life, and the dream sequences were full of magic, romance, and color. The program notes made the point that *Oklahoma!* came out in 1943 and is seen as a turning point in musical theatre, where the music, drama, and dancing were integrated in a way that hadn't been done before, but this show was more daring and ambitious. Not as consistent as *Oklahoma!* but in its own way, more innovative.
The one exception is the end of the show - - a haunting melody hovers over the first scenes, not sung or heard in its entirely until the end of the show, when Liza achieves resolution in her analysis. The song is one of Weill's loveliest, "My Ship." Let's hear two recordings, shall we? Here's one by Risë Stevens:
And another, my favorite, by Johnny Hartman:
The show was presented by MasterVoices and conducted and directed by their artistic director, Ted Sperling. MasterVoices was founded by Robert Shaw in 1941 as the Collegiate Chorale. They have about 120 members and I'm sure Shaw was rolling in his grave - - their sound was out of tune, blurry, and often unattractive.
The star of the show was Victoria Clark, and she was extraordinary. She has a beautiful voice, what we call a "legit" voice, meaning more of a classical voice than a Broadway belter. She completely held the stage, was just as strong in her dialogue scenes as in her songs. She has a winning way with a full skirt. Best of all she did the one thing most essential in someone playing the leading role in a show: she made me care about the character and become invested in what would happen to her.
Amy Irving played her analyst, a role that originally played by a man. It was a smart move to have the doctor played by a woman in this revival, I imagine it made the role more sympathetic and less judgmental. David Pittu played Russell Paxton, the head photographer at the fashion magazine, a role that catapulted Danny Kaye to fame. It was a little startling to see an overt gay male stereotype in a show from 1941 (he makes his entrance saying, "What a beautiful hunk of a man!"), but Pittu played it with such wit and sincerity that it wasn't offensive.
The other person I'll mention is Ben Davis, who played the movie star and Liza's fantasy love interest. I saw him in *On a Clear Day* and *Call Me Madam* recently and he's impressed me every time. He has a firm, handsome voice and I could use those words to describe the rest of him, too. "My Ship" is the best-known song in the show, but the real discovery (for me) was his character's ballad, "This Is New." Here's a lovely recording by Julie Andrews. She's pours on the coy a little too much, but she captures the beauty of the song, and the way her voice opens up at the top - - ah.
One more wonderful recording of that song, in a groovy arrangement by Dee Dee Bridgewater:
PS - - I didn't even know that Doris Day recorded "My Ship"! I love how she says "shyip." The arrangement by Jim Harbert is opulent and gauzy in the EXTREME.