It’s a crime this delightful production is only being presented three times. Singlehandedly bringing finesse and sophistication back to New York theater, the musical showcases quality in every aspect. Though politically incorrect, it’s blessedly rendered without updating, context clear and, so-what, dated. Virtuoso performance by Victoria Clark offers a Liza Elliott as enchanting as she must’ve been in 1941.
The show, ostensibly inspired by Moss Hart’s experience with psychoanalysis, must’ve caused quite a stir at a time therapy was not broadly accepted. Setting Liza’s quandaries in three extended dream sequences, the Glamour Dream, the Wedding Dream, and the Circus Dream, made the premise more accessible.
When the piece opens, City Center stage holds only an excessively tall lamp, an arty, uncomfortable-looking, curved couch, a desk and a chair. Doug Fitch’s Set Design may be minimal, but it’s never less than evocative and clever. The enormous Master Voices chorus sits on upstage bleachers.
Liza’s wedding fantasy generates wide, white streamers cascading from above that eventually attach to her hair creating a veil and then to her wrists conjuring a puppet. The magazine name in backwards cursive hangs from above casting a redolent shadow. James F. Ingalls’ Lighting Design seamlessly generates mood.
Elliott, the attractive editor of glossy fashion/beauty bible, Allure Magazine, is the classic early twentieth century concept of a woman executive- formidable, unfeminine, married to her desk. For many years she’s congenially lived with Allure’s backer, Kendall Nesbitt (an elegant, completely credible Ron Raines) who can’t secure a divorce from his estranged wife.
Office staff includes secretary, Miss Foster (the charming Ashley Park), fashion director Maggie (no nonsense Montego Glover), photographer David Pittu (a comic treasure), and director of advertising/bête noir Charley Johnson (Christopher Innvar, whose “boss lady” attitude is pitch perfect.)
Our heroine is in crisis, suddenly insecure about life decisions and uncontrollably acting out. She throws a paperweight at Charley, bursts into tears, dreams elaborately, and is haunted by the tune we know as “My Ship.” In desperation, Liza goes to see psychiatrist Dr. Brooks (this time a woman, the solid Amy Irving – good to see her onstage again.)
Dr. Brooks is curiously dressed like a bohemian rather than the Park Avenue type who would likely have been recommended. This is my only caveat to the splendidly costumed show which apparently takes a village. Tracy Christensen is credited with Costume Design, Zac Posen with Ms. Clark’s mouth-watering “glamour dream looks,” Marchesa for her stunning bridal gown, and Thom Browne for principal actors and gloriously vaudevillian dream jury members. ‘Love the extreme shoulders, proportions, and colorful prints.
As Liza unearths pervasive childhood insecurities and tries to sort out what she wants, the overwrought editor is provoked by events: Kendall’s wife has agreed to divorce precipitating his proposal, film idol Randy Curtis pursues her, (Ben Davis, an appealingly masculine baritone), and she finds herself unwilling to accept Charley’s resignation.
Not being able to make up her mind erupts in the Circus Dream during which we’re treated to David Pittu’s marvelous version of the tongue-twisting “Tschaikowsky” made famous by Danny Kaye and Clark’s sexy, animated “The Saga of Jenny.” Throughout, The Doug Varone Dancers twirl, gambol and pretzel-up in accordance with theme, interweaving among singers with skill.
Victoria Clark showcases every facet of her sizable talent. A first rate vocalist, her body language shifts from graceful inhibition to awkward confusion to infectious abandon. (The latter is sublime.) Clark delivers the kind of nuanced emotional performance one hopes for in drama and finds less often in a musical. Feelings play across her face like light. I find myself gently moved when things resolve- and I knew what was coming. Having a seasoned actress play the role also grounds life experience.
The Master Voices of St. Lukes and this cast are well served by Sound Designer Scott Lehrer whose work is pristine. To hear a full orchestra ably lead- in the pit, not piped in from a basement elsewhere, makes notable difference.
Director Ted Sperling creates uninterrupted flow between scenes and harmonious meshing of vocals –including those of select chorus members- and dance. Off the cuff remarks sail and land precisely. A light touch makes things droll, not broad. Endless yards of diaphanous white fabric and hand held streamers add to illusive segments.
Christopher Hart and Kim Kowalke are responsible for this deft, urbane Adaptation which never feels its length. Music and lyrics will stand any test of time. An utterly splendid evening.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Victoria Clark
Voices 77th Concert Season presents
Lady in the Dark
Music-Kurt Weill; Lyrics-Ira Gershwin
Book-Moss Hart; Script Adaptation-Christopher Hart & Kim Kowalke
Ted Sperling- Conductor/Director
Doug Varone- Choreographer
April 26, 2019
New York City Center