Street Scene, Young Vic, London

4.00

Kurt Weill called Street Scene "a Broadway opera", but there aren't too many operas with a wild jitterbug that segues into a slutty blues or a children's chorus who chant, "My father's name is Rockefeller./He shovels diamonds in the cellar." Into his 1947 musical version of Elmer Rice's 1929 play, Weill emptied a cornucopia of influences – Wagner, Puccini, folk song, jazz, operetta, and his predecessors on the Great White Way (predominantly George Gershwin). The luscious melodies, the powerful use of music to foreshadow action and accentuate character, make one grateful for even this flawed production of a rarely presented show, which looks back a decade to Porgy and Bess and forward to West Side Story.

The elements of the complex score don't really fuse into a unified whole, but their variety embodies the show's theme. Rice, a socialist, wrote Street Scene to show that the melting pot won't work while capitalist exploitation keeps the exhausted workers simmering with self-destructive resentment. The tenement is filled to bursting with immigrants from Sweden, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Africa and the ghettos of Europe, each of whom fiercely maintain their ethnic identities and antagonisms. A tropical New York summer finds them sprawled, panting, on the front steps, where the friction of lust, jealousy and frustration produces sparks that light a fatal fire.

The libretto, by Langston Hughes, is a slice of life rather than a story – its action (man catches wife in adultery and kills her) barely amounts to an anecdote. The characters, also, are fairly bare-bones: Gossip, Mistreated Wife, Working Girl, Bully. What drives the piece is passion: Mrs Maurrant, though terrified of her brutish husband, defies him, disgrace and death for her lover; her virginal daughter, Rose, desperate to leave the sordid tenement, considers becoming the mistress of her married boss; Sam Kaplan is crazy about Rose, but he is bound to his law studies and she regards him as a friend only.

That passion is evident in the doom-laden music, in the gorgeous-sounding orchestra of three dozen and a chorus of equal size. But the operatic demands of most of the parts mean that the theatrical side is often scanted or misunderstood, as in John Fulljames's production. Adrian Dwyer's utterly un-Jewish Sam is less romantic idealist than stodgy nerd, there is some silly and distracting business, and the lyrics are often inaudible, particularly in ensemble numbers. Hughes is occasionally maudlin or simplistic, but the homeliness and anguish of his Harlem poetry made him a fine choice, especially for such despondent arias as Sam's "Lonely House": "The night for me is not romantic – unhook the stars and take them down!"

As the brute, Andrew Slater shows, movingly, that his character's harshness is the outgrowth of helplessness and fear. Ruby Hughes's Rose is also touching in her struggle to cling to her dreams, as in the exquisite, "What Good Would the Moon Be?". But the evening belongs to the golden-voiced Elena Ferrari, who beautifully conveys the love-starved Mrs Maurrant's yearning, as well as her intense pride in her one satisfaction, her children. The song in which she soothes her small, fretful son ("Somebody's going to be so handsome...") is heartbreaking, not only for its warmth and conviction, but for our knowledge that she will never see him grow up. (For all his brittle Berliner cynicism, Weill was always tender in his material for and about children, as in the lilting, springtime-fresh "Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow" with which a group of girls in white dresses celebrate their graduation.)

Patrick Bailey, who conducts the musicians from upstage centre, archly framed by two dustbins, turns around several times to beam at the cast. In any show this would be reprehensible; in a show about social cooperation it's unforgivable.

To 22 July (020-7922 2922)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn