MasterVoices 2018-19 Review: Lady in the Dark

An Elegant & Engaging Performance of a Kurt Weill Classic

By Jennifer Pyron

Stemming from a psychoanalysis review of one woman’s journey to self-discovery, Kurt Weill’s “Lady in the Dark” is pertinent to modern day and the overall theme of self-awakening.

Ted Sperling, Conductor and Director of NYC’s MasterVoices, was inspired by this work at an early age. The opportunity to conclude MasterVoices 2018-2019 season with a full production of this music drama at New York City Center was a dream come true for all involved. Based on the dream sequence synopsis that transformed the theater’s space into an alternate reality, this complex music drama adapted all means of artistry to modern day and supported the real-life cultivation of one’s freedom and power to simply dream in order to better understand their own life. Taking an artistic journey towards a higher perspective. 

Collaborating with Hamish Bowles, “Vogue’s” international editor-at-large, MasterVoices and the cast were geared towards an innovative performance from the start. Bowles’ curatorial assistance provided support from esteemed fashion designers Zac Posen, Marchesa, and Thom Browne.

With this team of highly creative minds focused on this project, one may be concerned that the music would get lost in the midst of a grandiose design. However, Weill’s dominant musical themes for each sequence allowed the main character, Liza Elliot, to evolve herself through the music. And this proved to be the compass guide overall.

Navigating Dream Sequences To Find Oneself

Tony Award-winning Victoria Clark, as Liza Elliot, told an honest story of her character from the very beginning. And it was Clark’s ability to apply her own life-experiences as a popular Broadway star to this role that created a multi-dimensional, modern-day Elliot. Clark exuded vulnerability and enthusiasm throughout her performance. From her heart she housed a genuine adeptness of profound insight that kept this seemingly wild ride of a musical on track.

Act One begins with Elliot, an editor of the fashion magazine “Allure,” speaking to a psychiatrist for the first time. Dr. Brooks, played by Amy Irving, encourages Elliot to open her mind and free-associate. In doing so, Elliot remembers a tune that she sang as a child and thus begins the first dream sequence. In the “Glamour Dream” sequence, Clark wore a Zac Posen gown that mimicked the over-the-top glamour and status of a woman being toasted at a New York high society party. Clark gracefully and charismatically portrayed Elliot, while interweaving between patrons that sang an ode to her beauty, “Girl of the Moment.” MasterVoices was staged in the action and provided vocal glitz and glamour to the excitement. 

A memorably shocking moment takes place when Elliot’s portrait is seen for the first time by her and she must take an honest look into who she has become as an adult running away from childhood hurts. “It Looks Like Liza” was a coming together of all cast members that voiced one of the strongest messages in the music. Clarks face was pieced together as an abstract portrait based on a heavily brushed, thick lined painting that highlighted her wrinkles and age. 

One might say that it is in the most revealing moments of one’s life that it is possible to create something beautiful from something painful. And this is exactly what the first dream sequence embodied. Bringing to climax her darkest thoughts and deepest anxieties. An honest image of someone in emotional turmoil that must make a decision on what direction to take in their own life. This symbolized a crossroads moment at the soul level that one might correlate with Weill’s own personal mid-life crisis after he lost his brother in 1937 and made the dramatic return to the theater with “Lady in the Dark.” 

For the second dream sequence, “Wedding Dream,” Clark wore an elegant styled wedding gown designed by Marchesa. Mixing opinions based on sex and death, this sequence was not as clearly defining as the other two. Weill musically juxtaposed several happenings both vocally and thematically that created an unsettling foundation. Symbolically this was characteristically accurate because Elliot herself was uncertain on a personal level about certain experiences within the acts of love and the finality of death.

Shining Divine Light

MasterVoices was the main guidepost for this journey and they sounded ethereal when above all. Shining a divine light into the confusing turn of events happening at the wedding, chorus members sang with clear intention and direction. Ted Sperling also contributed to a steady pace that moved all forward and into a lighter place for one’s mind to process everything best.

During Act Two, “Lady in the Dark” took on the challenge of experimenting with every aspect of Weill’s creative process. Musically, thematically, metaphorically and humorously, this sequence was the most thrilling of all. And the creative decision to have Thom Browne as the featured designer for all costumes in the “Circus Dream” sequence was genius. Audience members were invited to experience a live action 1970’s large tent carnival theme that exploded into a psychedelic moment similar to an acid trip. Dancers were performing unique tricks, cast members were reveling in the carnival magic and Broadway star Ashley Jini Park was bouncing on a large ball while wearing a mini-skirt and sucking on a lollipop. Everything that was happening was exciting and cerebrally satiating. Entertainment at this level is exactly what made this performance of “Lady in the Dark” pertinent to our modern day in the genre of live performances.

“Tschaikovsky” is one of the most famous songs from this work and hearing it while such an exciting sequence was unfolding proved to be magical. David Pittu, as Russell, executed every bit of the text flawlessly and one might say that his gift of tremendous enthusiasm and high spirits lifted everyone into a higher dimension. The audience could not take their eyes away from the stage and there was a palpable sense of connection at a communal level that only happens during the most special performances. 


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