Weill/ Anderson Lost in the Stars, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Thursday 25 June 2009
It is quite astonishing to look back and see what made the Broadway stage in the 1940s.
It was a time of great daring and innovation when the boundaries between musical comedy and opera were less defined than they’ve ever been. Kurt Weill’s final show for Broadway Lost in the Stars – his musical adaptation with Maxwell Anderson of Alan Paton’s novel “Cry, the Beloved Country” – would be lucky to make off-Broadway today. And yet there it was - a deeply compassionate drama of division and reconciliation in apartheid South Africa playing the capriciously named “Great White Way” in an attempt to prick America’s own racist conscience. And it took a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany to do it.
Lost in the Stars is an undeniably book-heavy, sometimes laboured, music drama where the play’s very much the thing and the shattering final scene is denuded of music to lay bare the potency of the words. Stephen Sondheim was the last person to dare to do this in a piece of music theatre when he, too, gave the stage to his book writer John Weidman in the closing scene of Assassins. As was the case there, the chorus – or better yet the ensemble - has the first and last words in Lost in the Stars for they are the witnesses and commentators and makers of history in this “musical tragedy” and as such the backbone of this South Bank/ BBC Concert Orchestra semi-staging. Mary King (vocal coach and casting director) should be applauded for nursing such a richly diverse group of voices through this difficult, searching, angular music.
It isn’t an easy piece to bring off in what must have been limited rehearsal time, but how good to experience it at all, and in its original and so wonderfully Weillian orchestrations. The sepia colorations with oily clarinets and saxes, not to forget accordion, were duly savoured by conductor Charles Hazlewood and there vocal glimmers, too, with Tsakane Maswanganyi’s Irina plumbing the soul singer in her operatically inflected numbers “Trouble Man” and the enduring “Stay Well”.
The title song is one of Weill’s most glorious creations and if one wondered why Clive Rowe had been cast as Stephen Kumalo when this and so much else in the score lies too low for him, the answer came in that final scene when he and the wonderful Edward Petherbridge stunned us into a numbed silence as the seeds of reconciliation were tentatively, painfully, sown.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food