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)

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
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.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower