Lady in the Dark (1941) was the most revolutionary musical play since Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein tore up the rule book with Show Boat in 1927. The subject matter, psychoanalysis, was a far cry from your average boy-meets-girl story line, but even more astonishing was its form: no overture, no tone-setting opening number, and nearly all the music is contained within three dream sequences that act as mini-operas. If that gives the impression of forbidding avant-gardism, bear in mind that the show was a huge success and popular singers rushed to record numbers from it!
Meet the Men of Lady
Kendall Nesbitt (played by Ron Raines): the publisher of Allure and officially the man in Liza’s life. There’s only one problem, like the song says – she “got herself a husband, but he wasn’t hers.” Played by Bert Lytell in the original, you may recognize Ron from recent Broadway roles in Annie (2013), Newsies (2012) and Follies opposite Bernadette Peters (2011). He’s also been on Guiding Light since 1994. Fun fact: Ron played opposite Lady co-star Amy Irving (Dr. Brooks) in A Little Night Music at Opera Theatre of St. Louis a few years back!
Randy Curtis (played by Ben Davis): The heart-throb Hollywood star who makes ALL the ladies swoon… even Liza. Maybe. Or maybe not. You get the point. Played by a newly-discovered Victor Mature in 1941, Our Randy is already a star – Ben was just in Encores! Call Me Madam; Broadway roles range from Les Misérables (2006) to Violet (2014). Ben appeared in our Knickerbocker Holiday (2011) and recently performed at our spring benefit! Fun fact: Ben has also voiced multiple characters in the Grand Theft Auto and the Red Dead Redemption games.
Charley Johnson (played by Christopher Innvar): Allure’s cocky but handsome advertising manager, at whom Liza throws a paperweight because she just can’t stand him… or is that really why? Equally at home in plays and musicals, you may have seen Christopher on Broadway in The Snow Geese (2013) or at the Delacorte in King Lear (2014). Fun fact: Just a month ago, Christopher was in The Dance of Death at Classic Stage Company… directed by Lady in the Dark star Victoria Clark!
Russel Paxton (played by David Pittu): Allure’s funny, self-centered yet talented photographer. He adores Liza… and Randy Curtis, too. This was the role that launched Danny Kaye career! As for David, you may have seen David on Broadway in The Front Page or Is He Dead? and you may also recognize him from our own Firebrand of Florence (2009) and Of Thee I Sing (2017). Fun fact: David narrated the audiobook of The Goldfinch and is a founding member of Atlantic Theater Company!
Dissection of a Dream
To dramatize its subject matter of psychoanalysis, Lady is structured around three sumptuous dream sequences in which Liza’s imaginings and fears are played out. The mix of fantasy and reality provides the perfect arena for the seductive and dramatic power of music – and fashion!
The first dream we’re swept into is the Glamour Dream. The fabulous Zac Posen (Project Runway) has designed a gorgeous, crystal-embellished 1940s gown for our Liza, played by Victoria Clark; as Creative Director of Brooks Brothers, Zac will also be dressing the male dancers. Listen for the rhumba beat that pervades the dream… and the MasterVoices Chorus, giving voice to the gossiping crowds.
Some Songs You May Know
Perhaps the most famous song from the show is “My Ship”, the haunting melody whose origins propel the story, sort of like “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane. Tellingly, it is the only song not intended for one of the dream sequences. Think of the musical challenge Weill gave himself with this tune: it must have the character of a childhood song, with a melody that is recognizable in 7 measures, yet is complex enough to leave us wanting to hear more. Stay tuned for more songs next week.