Book by Moss Hart
Music by Kurt Weill
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin

INFO:

Opened at the Alvin Theater (now the Neil Simon)    January 23, 1941    467 performances
Original Director: Moss Hart, Hassard Short
Original Choreographer: Short
Original Producer: Sam H. Harris
Original Leads: Liza: Gertrude Lawrence Charlie: MacDonald Carey   Russel: Danny Kaye   Randy Curtis: Victor Mature
Cast Size: Male: 4    Female: 7    Ensemble: Large    Total Cast Size: 11 plus maybe 12-20. Could be done “experimentally” with perhaps a total cast of 16.
Orchestra: 16, and it calls for an organ, which a synth could certainly cover. Weill always did his own orchestrations, and these are gorgeous. Could be done with piano/drums/bass/synth, with a trumpet, violin, cello, clarinet and sax, maybe 8 musicians. But the full orchestration is preferable.
Published Script: Long out of print.
Production Rights: Rodgers & Hammerstein Library; The Kurt Weill Foundation
Recordings: Numerous. I really like the one with Rise Stevens, which was the first recording to use Weill’s extraordinary orchestrations.
Film: Not very good, with Ginger Rogers, they destroyed the score.
Other shows by the authors: Weill/Gershwin: Firebrands of Florence. Weill: Berlin To Broadway With Kurt Weill, The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny, Happy End, Johnny Johnson, Knickerbocker Holiday, Threepenny Opera, Street Scene, One Touch of Venus, Lost In The Stars , Love Life, Street Scene,   Gershwin: Porgy & Bess, Of Thee I Sing

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is a huge show when done traditionally, as written and originally designed. But I’m convinced it can and should be done with far more manageable size, and that it will be improved in the bargain. As is, it will work well for theater companies with large stages and theaters to fill, and with real resources in sets, costumes, cast and musicians. (Even they should make some edits in the book.) Colleges would find it a wonderful and appropriate challenge in many cases.

But approached as I’m going to suggest, even Dinner Theaters could (and should) do this show, and indeed, it is admirably constructed to place two intermissions, something Dinner Theaters love to do. Smaller colleges will be able to provide it strong productions. Stock companies with the appropriate resources for a small-midsized show (as I’m going to suggest), semi-pro and pro companies looking for not just an important piece of American Theater history, but a challenging, living, breathing masterwork that has been gruesomely under-produced could not do better than this show.

Be Warned:

This is definitely not a show for just any company. It’s too big as is for most companies. But I personally feel that this is a show crying out for reinvention in casting and design. I believe this show can be brought down to a very produceable and inviting size. More important than its scale of production, this is a show that REQUIRES expert direction and execution. You’ll need a director who has a thorough understanding of Musical Theater, who is experimental and creative, and who respects the material being presented. (Does that sound contradictory? If a director experiments with a show, isn’t he disrespecting it? Nope, not if the experiments work to unveil levels within the writing without rewriting.) You’ll need a musical director who is extraordinarily skilled. This is a show for experts to show off their stuff. If you haven’t the expertise, there are far easier shows to tackle.

There’s more. The role of Liza is simply enormous. This show is what used to be called a “star vehicle,” written to show off the talents of a star. If you haven’t a star-quality actress who sings well for the role, this is not a good choice of shows for you.

And more. The role of Russell, the photographer, is clearly intended to be played as openly gay. (Yes, even in 1941, when Danny Kaye created the role, and it made him a star.) If this will disturb your audience, you may wish to do another show.

And more. The music by Kurt Weill, as is true of all his shows, is advanced in difficulty (and beauty). You’ll need a company that sing very well, and an expert Music Director. Again, if these cannot be provided, probably not the best show for you.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: Liza Elliot, the editor of a successful fashion magazine, is found as a patient in the office of Dr. Brooks, a psychologist. She talks a bit about her life, and the fact that she experiences moments of panic and indecision. She also makes it clear that she doesn’t believe he can help her. He suggests that she start therapy immediately, at that moment, and she does. A melody comes into her mind from her childhood (the first music in the show). And she recalls a dream she had the previous evening. He asks her to tell him about it, and the first of three “mini-operas” in the show begins as the set changes to become her dream.

It is a dream of Liza as beloved icon of femininity throughout the world, as suitors by the score stand under her windows singing (“Oh, Fabulous One”). Great painters and the elite pay her homage. (“The World’s Inamorata”) She is so famous, that a speech is expected from her, and she delivers. (“One Life To Live”) She is indeed, as the company sings, the “Girl Of the Moment”, as she is selected by the President to be painted and used as the face of the new two-cent stamp. But that curious melody from childhood interrupts, and as the painting is revealed the mob bemoans the fact that “It Looks Like Liza,” but no one really knows who Liza is.

Back to the good Doctor’s office. He comments that she recalls a lot of her dream. She doesn’t believe it has anything to do with her, though she was the one who dreamed it. They make another appointment.

Liza’s office at the magazine. Her life is hectic indeed. We realize that people who work for her show up in her dreams, as we meet them. We discover that she’s been the long-time significant other of the owner of the magazine, Kendall Nesbitt, who seems to admire and adore her. She has an adversarial relation with Charlie Johnson, who seems to want her job. She has a flamboyant, gifted gay photographer who is currently in heaven, as he is photographing a movie star hunk, Randy Curtis (played originally by a movie star hunk, Victor Mature). Turns out she’s met Randy, he’s a sweet, dear man, and he has an interest in her. She is in fact surrounded by men interested in her. Exhausted, she rests her head a moment, and a second dream opera assumes the stage.

The people of the small town she was apparently raised in sing of their affection and admiration for her, as she prepares to marry Kendall. But there’s a shake-up, as Randy Curtis makes a furious entrance and sings of his love for her. (“This Is New”) She clearly cannot make up her mind. She recalls in the midst of this dream a school play she did, “The Princess Of Pure Delight”, which had a happy ending for the Princess. Suddenly, in this dream, it’s Liza’s wedding day. Charlie, in her dream, torments her, as she seems unable to decide who to marry. (“The Woman At The Altar”) The dream turns ugly and atonal.

Next visit to Dr. Brooks. Only it’s Liza’s secretary, Maggie, talking to the Dr. Liza does not know Maggie is talking to him about her, or that she’s there at all. She describes subtle break-downs Liza is having in the workplace. She exits out a side door as Liza is brought in for her session. Liza tells the doctor she has a date with Randy, the star, but intends to break it. The Doctor asks her if most women would turn down a date with Curtis. The conversation turns to the fact that she hates other women, in general, yet her job through the magazine is to make them beautiful. She suddenly rises and leaves, asking him to send her a bill, and clearly has no intent to return.

In her office, Russel is lying on Liza’s couch, speaking to Maggie. Another employee, Alison, joins in the discussion about Liza. And Liza is late for work. She storms in, upset, and talks to Maggie alone. Kendall, the owner, has finally asked his wife for a divorce so he can wed Liza. And this has truly upset her. Maggie is surprised, she thought that was what Liza wanted. Then, Kendall shows up in her office. He seems to understand that she does not want to marry him. She says there’s no one else, she just doesn’t know what she wants. He tells her that’s not really good enough, as he has rearranged his entire life for her, and sweetly informs her that he intends to push her a bit until she marries him. They make a date for that night, as Russell interrupts with work. There is indecision about the next cover of the magazine, and Liza seems unable to make up her mind about that, as well. She watches Charlie, he adversary, pick up on models in the office, and her reaction to his decisive masculinity, unlike that of the other men around her, is apparent and over-the-top repulsion. He confronts her about the cover of the magazine, and she does promise an answer soon. He then lets her know he’s moving on, to another magazine where he can be the boss. Strangely, she offers to do almost anything to keep him at her magazine except give him her job, the job he wants. He plans to leave shortly.

She’s forgotten to cancel her date,. And Randy shows up, ready to go. He’s thrilled she’s not dressed up, and likes her the way she is. She asks him to wait while she changes. She seems deeply upset as she changes and weeps, messing her hair. Maggie steps in to find this misemotional display, and Liza demands to be left alone.

ACT TWO: Liza’s office, the next afternoon. She stares at the different possible magazine covers. Alison, society hound that she is, makes an entrance announcing that Liza and Randy were a “sensation” at the Stork Club, the last night.

Alone, Liza is haunted by the men in her life, the magazine covers, the decisions she can’t make, as music starts for the third mini-opera, the Circus that is Liza’s life, “The Greatest Show On Earth”. The circus will be a combination three-ring affair with clowns and high-wire acts, Liza herself – and a trial in an almost Gilbert and Sullivan mode, with Russell as her judge. Charley will be the prosecution, Randy the attorney for the defense. The rest of humanity, the clowns., will be her jury. The ringmaster/judge, Russell, spells out the charge against her, that Kendall gave her “The Best Years of His Life”, and now she can’t make up her mind whether or not to marry him. Suddenly, without any real meaning other than as a reminder that this is a dream, the Ringmaster announces he loves the music just heard, and that it’s Russian, and he launches into a song listing Russian composers. (“Tchaikovsky”, an absolute show-stopper.) And then, without ado, back to the trial.

The charge of not being able to make up her mind brings Liza to her own defense, with the second great show-stopper in a row, “The Saga of Jenny”, in which she tells of a girl named Jenny who lived long and interestingly because she did not make up her mind, and who got into trouble or died when she did. Charlie congratulates Liza on her defense, and asks which cover of the magazine, the Circus or the Easter cover, she wishes to use. And the song from her youth whispers in her mind. She reacts with fear, as dream-Charlie accuses her of being afraid of everything., and the dream ends.

In Dr. Brooks’ office. Liza is there, if nervous. Gradually, through a type of free association, she arrives at memories of her childhood. Her parents claiming that Liza is plain looking, and how that made her feel. Her first crush, and how that boy, Ben, turned down the most beautiful girl in school to sit with her. And then, she fully recalls that song from her childhood. It is a beautiful song (one of the most beautiful ever written for a show, in fact), in which she waits for “My Ship”, which may come with all the wealth in the world, but which will be meaningless without love. She sings it to Ben in the dream, as the beautiful girl steps up and takes him away, and she loses him to a beauty. Time for the session runs out, but Brooks offers his insight into her life…a girl rejected, who felt her life ease when her beautiful mother passed away, and who is unwilling to risk being rejected as a woman.

Next day, Liza’s office. (Yes, we’re out of music, and it’s here the script starts to feel too long…) Maggie, Charley and four gorgeous models lounge about, discussing work and waiting for Liza, late again. Charley tells Maggie he regrets some of the harsher things he said to Liza, and that he attacks he because he likes and admires her as a person and a woman. He just doesn’t like her display as “boss,” which he thinks is a fake. Maggie is surprised by his insight into Liza. Russell storms in furious at Alison for lending his color plates (photos) out, Russell teases him, and the two men express mutual dislike. The office is filled with anger as Liza finally enters. Randy is with her, smiling. He is in love with her, after another date, and likes all the various sides of her personality. Charley interrupts, Randy stepping out so she can work. Alone with him, they actually have a civil talk, which surprises her, when Kendall interrupts. (Yes, there’s too much of this convenient dramaturgy, the book is overwritten here.) Alone with her, he begs her to stay with him. Alison interrupts to say she can’t find Charley. Alarmed, Liza tells Kendall it’s not his fault, it’s her, but they are done as a couple, though she will always love him. He leaves, enter Randy, who asks her to marry him. She is surprised, and asks for time to think.

Russell enters, begging her to punish Alison. Charley enters, and finally has it out with Liza, as he’s leaving. Just the two of them, she offers to share editorship of the magazine with him. Stunned, he accepts. She realizes she almost made a mistake marrying Randy, that he is the same thing she’s always fallen for – a tower of strength so she won’t have to make up her mind, or be rejected. And she realizes that she’s seeing Charley in a new light.

THE SONGS:

“Oh, Fabulous One”, “The World’s Inamorata”, “One Life To Live”; “Girl Of The Moment”, “It Looks Like Liza”, “This Is New”, “The Princess of Pure Delight”, “The Woman At The Altar”, “The Greatest Show On Earth”, “The Best Years of His Life”, “Tchaikovsky”, “The Saga of Jenny”, “My Ship”

Hits include “My Ship”, “The Saga of Jenny”, “Tchaikovsky”

MY OPINIONS:

You may, as ever, ignore or skip my opinions and rating.  But if you do, don’t be surprised if the lady isn’t the only one in the dark…

Kurt Weill is my favorite theater composer, and this is one of his best and most accessible American score, perhaps his best score. The music is crazy-beautiful, powerful, fun, sophisticated beyond measure, and a masterful example of composition as theatre. Gershwin’s lyrics are wonderfully clever and silly, and emotiive when needed, the work of a master. The book is unique in design and power, experimental then as now, but creaky and in need of a serious edit if not a significant rewrite. (If I had permission, I’d cut about a fourth of the book, most of it in the last part of Act Two, and that is not an exaggeration.) References abound in the lyrics to the period the musical was written in, and since these are lyrics, they would be very hard to alter, so you do have a period piece. The book keeps the show at two stars in my rating instead of three.

There is no show like Lady In The Dark, nowhere, nohow, it is one of a kind and brilliant. Here is a big statement: I believe Lady In The Dark is the great, “undiscovered” masterpiece in the Musical Theater repertoire, and one of the earliest and best examples of the “Concept Musical” that Hal Prince was to make so much hay with starting in the 1960s. This is a show waiting for a company to demonstrate its genius.

A “Concept Musical” is a Musical built around a single idea or topic. For instance, Company is about the difficulty in starting and maintaining relationships in the modern world, and all of its numbers and scenes revolve around this one idea. Lady In The Dark revolves around a writing concept, a most unusual one for a Musical, and one which would in various shows be mimicked later. The idea is that a woman in going through psychoanalysis, that the play is split between scenes where she relates her memories to a psychologist and scenes where she lives her life, and that the music would all take place during her dreams and reminiscences. There are three mini-operas in the show, one for each dream. Each dream is unique, and so each mini-opera takes on its own musical identity. All of this is tied together by a single musical theme which Liza cannot get out of her mind, the stunning “My Ship,” which hides the secret to her happiness.

This approach served many purposes. It served to make it very clear to an audience when we had entered into Liza’s private thoughts and feelings (because the music started each time), and dramatized and amplified her private world in bold, physical manifestations that provided the show a profound sense of both intimacy and spectacle. It serviced Kurt Weill’s personal ambition to develop musicals that were increasingly integrated, meaning all of the material in some way belonged directly to the story and characters, an approach that was to catch fire two years later with Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, but which most certainly did not start with that overly-venerated show. Frankly, folks, this show accomplishes integration with far more grace and expertise than any Rodgers and Hammerstein show except possibly South Pacific or The King And I. It also allowed Weill to write a type of popular opera, though restricted and short, something he was the master of.

This show was fabled at the time of its 1941 Broadway opening for its production values, which were massive and highly creative. It played every performance to standing room only, the only show in Broadway history to be able to make that claim! I strongly believe that Lady In The Dark is primed and ready for reinvention in terms of the size of the show. I think it will become a better, more personal and powerful experience for shearing away the massive sets and design elements of the original approach, and moving into a more impressionistic, intimate one that will better reflect the looking-through-the-keyhole sensibility of the dream sequences. We are entering a woman’s mind through song, dance and imagery. This is not unlike the best of Shakespeare’s dramas, such as Lear or Hamlet, where we enter into the deepest thought processes of complex human beings on what is, effectively a bare stage. That bare stage comes to represent all possibility. It is a blank canvas for the audience to write on. It certainly works with Shakespeare, and there are Musicals it will work brilliantly for, as well. Lady In The Dark, perhaps more than any other musical, might best benefit from this sort of approach, where we would see her dreams in carefully isolated fragments, in passing light, hints and clues rather than literal sets. This will be haunting, and moving, and, well, less expensive by far as an approach.

Many Musicals of the past 60 years have shown us that a nearly bare stage with suggestive set pieces and lighting can create a vast visual panorama in an audience’s mind, and that forced involvement on the audience’s part only increases their commitment and closeness to the show. Shows can either be representational (literal, “real) or presentational (theatrical, suggestive of reality) in performance and design. This show, more than any of the large classic musicals, will benefit from a far more presentational approach. Such an approach would demand a high degree of performance and creativity from your cast and designers. Done well, the end result will be the rebirth of a theatrical legend, a show that will stun and thrill your audience, and that you will talk about with joy for the rest of your life.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
This show was composed by a man notorious as the L’Enfant terrible of atonal music while still writing his European works. But by the time he composed Lady, Weill had ingested American popular music into his palate. The result is a wondrous hybrid, orchestrations and compositions only a trained and successful composer of modern classical music could have created, but radiant with unforgettable melody in the pop song tradition. Let’s start, then, with your Musical Director. You’re going to need an excellent pianist, truly skilled conductor, and a person who very much understands the human voice and knows how to work with it almost with operatic sensibilities. This is not opera, not at all. But it’s as smart as any opera, and as deep in its musical language and resources. More, the M.D. Must be very comfortable with Musical Theater styles of music from the period, and with the idea that lyrics are as important as music. So get an M.D. who knows his stuff. As to vocal parts:

Liza – Soprano with a bit of a belt, ideally. She has a fair amount of singing do. The original Liza, Gertrude Lawrence, was a wonderful performer and actor, but a markedly second-rate singer. The role has been played by many women, notably opera star Rise Stevens, who sings it well, if a bit, well, operatically, demonstrating that a more legit voice is perhaps best-suited for this score.

Charlie Johnson – Baritone, doesn’t need to be overwhelmingly strong, but should be capable.

Russell Paxton – Lyric Baritone, comic, exquisite ability to pronounce a lyric with very quick precision a must (a “patter verse”).

Kendall Nesbitt – Baritone, limited singing, could double in ensemble.

Randy Curtis – Baritone, romantic, must sing well.

Miss Foster- Mezzo-soprano.

Dr. Brooks – Does not sing. Could double in ensemble.

Ensemble – Must sing well chorally and individually, lots of solo lines. Must be musically smart. If members can read music, a big plus, it’s a tough score.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
There will be movement in the larger numbers that could and perhaps should be done by a choreographer. This would include “Oh, Fabulous One”, “The World’s Inamorata”, “Girl Of The Moment”, “It Looks Like Liza”, “The Woman At The Altar”, and “The Greatest Show On Earth”. Additionally, all the solos and duets must be staged to within an inch of their lives to feel like a part of Liza’s inner life, her dreams. They happen in the universe of her mind. All sorts of interesting experiments could be tried, denying gravity and the laws of nature in fun ways. This is certainly an area where some fancy creativity could enormously help the show. Perhaps the choreographer and director should work in collaboration with a “special effects” specialist of some sort. Harnesses and people flying, turning cartwheels in the air, that sort of thing. (Might be a good show to produce with Cirque de Soliel…)

The original production had specialized dance breaks, “acts” in the circus piece for “tumblers”, that added spectacle. It personally feels that this sort of thing is a waste of valuable story time. The “spectacle” for this show, taking place in Liza’s mind, should be suggested as much as possible rather than presented literally. In this way, you invite the audience to create Liza’s spectacle in their own minds, as Shakespeare always did.

So the door is open for the director and choreographer to have fun, get crazy creative. Go with as close to a bare stage as possible, avoid graphic spectacle. Perhaps use multi-media effects to suggest her state of mind, and locations.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Go for as small a cast as possible, and double a lot, so your actors get to show off. That means all your casting will need to be good, resulting in a gifted group of maybe around 16 actors, perhaps 8-8. There will be some quick costume changes, but this will make a more modern show, a fun challenge for your cast, and a more affordable production. A win-win-win.

Liza – A marvelous actress, in her thirties-forties, a real star if possible. Must be able to play powerful; anger, grief, etc. in a believable and sympathetic manner. Additionally, she needs to be somewhat beautiful, charming, radiate intelligence and a kind of cool under fire, and we need to believe that all the guys would fall for her, even when she does not accept this.  Race not an issue.

Russell – Energetic, flamboyant, young-ish, talented, gay.  Race not an issue.

Randy Curtis – A major movie star hunk, shy, bright, insecure.  Race not an issue.

Charley Johnson – About Liza’s age, smart, edgy, aggressive, a bi of a horndog. Ambitious and arrogant, there must be something about him essentially better than other men, something hidden but decent, direct and valuable.  Race not an issue.

Kendall Nesbitt – A mature man (50s, even 60s), handsome, intelligent, a bit too hungry, too desperate for his own good. A successful man.  Race not an issue.

Maggie Grant – Good looking, early 40s, a bit acid in terms of humor, lusty, earthy.

Miss Foster – Liza’s secretary, 25, very pretty, efficient, a bit of a gossip.

Alison Du Bois – Anywhere from 30-50, alive with costume jewelry. A small town girl who layers on phony French sophistication with a passion.

Dr. Brooks – Must be professional, but accessible, and seem to be genuinely concerned, or Liza would not come back to see him twice. I’d like him played modern, loose, even fun, in jeans and long-ish hair. This will set him apart from the well-dressed cast, and make him one of the audience, a “real person.” By the way, he could find his way into a dream or two, could be fun. Then, he’ll need to sing, though.

Various models, dancers, singers. (The original company included a full dance company of 14, as well as 15 singers! I would NOT go that route, but rather have people double all over the place and move away from overwhelm and spectacle into a far more intimate telling, inviting us into Liza’s mind.)

SETS:
There are a few stable sets required. Dr. Brooks’ office, and Liza’s office at the magazine, are unavoidable. They are where the entire action takes place. You might consider playing Brooks’ in a small space, even the apron in front of the main drape, and then open up or light the rest of the stage as a dream sequence takes over the action. All he needs is a chair, a couch, and two doors, a front and back entrance. I’d keep this set black and white, simple, inexpensive.

Liza’s office is the main administrative office of a major fashion magazine. Prints, etc would be everywhere, as well as mannequins and clothing samples to make the eyes water. If modernizing the show, the photos might well be digital mock-ups on computers, cheap to create and to change in the event of a long-running production. I think this set should be stable (in one location), and large enough to put 5-6 bodies in and have it make sense. But it must not eat the stage. If it can be trucked on and off somehow, that would be great! You’ll need the full stage for dreams.

Perhaps both sets can be suggestions, but they are intended to represent the literal universe in as opposed to Liza’s fantasies, so it seems as if they should be more literal. For the dreams, I would do anything but go literal, and I would not hide the fact that this is a play taking place live on a stage. Open spaces swallowed in surrounding darkness can feel as if the audience is being invited into a person’s “subconscious”. Odd and even suggestive shapes could float in and out, in Dali-esque fashion. This is a show about a woman who cannot make up her mind because she feels that is somehow threatening to her. A study of such absurd art may provide some visual inspiration.

Avoiding literal circus accoutrement and wedding locales and the like will help move this show away from its vast size. Think symbols in motion, alive and interacting in her mind, and made visible to the audience.

COSTUMES:

The show is written in its 1940s period, but feels as modern in most respects. I think modern dress, and placing the show in the now, will make it more compelling. Since you’re dealing with a fashion magazine, models, movie stars and fashion-minded people (except Dr. Brooks, who could today be a bit of a professional hippy type, longish hair and jeans to really set him apart…). If you go modern, you can use the most current clothing trends. They can change if they are largely being presented digitally, to keep up. Your producer can make deals with design lines to show off their newest wares in your show.

If you stick to the 40s, the styles will need to be the bright, flamboyant breed of that time. This will be costly and time-consuming to produce. The customary search through used clothing and thrift stores may yield results, and you will almost assuredly need access to an established and well-stocked costume house. Even with a cast limited to say 16 actors, you’re going to need to get together a lot of costumes. The number of actors may be limited, but not the number of characters they will play. You’ll need to do a careful scene-by-scene breakdown, as the costuming for this show is particularly dense and complex.

Models come through Liza’s office in singles and groups, and they should look drop-dead stunning as they are to be “photographed,” and are in Liza’s office for approval before the photo session. The costuming should reflect high fashion for the period the production elects to use.

Make Liza plainly dressed for a woman who works in a fashion magazine, simple but not unappealing. You can gown her in the dream sequences and show off all her charms.

Dream costuming should be looney, mad, fun, bright, explosive, creative. You’ll likely be building these costumes, but each dream has a theme, and you’ll be looking for fanciful and fantastic ways to illustrate and expand upon the theme of the dream.

The first dream – Liza as the world’s desire. So men dress up in their best for her, women look like frumps next to her, Liza herself is stunning beyond words, Grace Kelly surrounded by munchkin women and handsome, hungry men. Break out the tuxes for the guys and moo-moos for the women. Maybe put the guys in shoes that make them two-three inches bigger than life, a kind of reversal on the Vegas Showgirl mentality.

Second dream – Small town Liza. Every high school cliche imaginable, leading up to a “perfect” small town wedding with Liza in a ridiculous gown (that must tear away in seconds, by the way). But do the cheerleader thing, etc. Only, as always, Liza is the star of the dream, the great beauty and most desirable woman.

Third Dream – The circus, which I would imagine you might imagine for yourself. Go nuts with this one, it should outdo the other dreams for glitz, power, fun, theatrical magic. Anything you might see in a circus is fair gamer. And there must be something of the courtroom about costumes in this dream (and the setting). It’s a trial of sorts, a trial taking place in life’s center ring. If you like, outdo Lion King, bring on a puppet menagerie, or use multi-media. In costuming, Russell becomes Ringmaster, and perhaps could have a hat and whip five times the normal size, distorted and comically nightmarish. Just remember, he must be able to move with these things, and sing a very tough if brief number. Perhaps the attorney for the prosecution could wear a black hood, skull and crossbones, carry a noose. Perhaps the attorney for the defense could be a white knight on a white charger. Nothing about the trial should feel very real. Only Liza, at the center of this circus, should seem at all real. Yet, she is on trial, and could wear the exaggerated clothing of a prisoner on trial, or handcuffs you somehow make decorative with “diamonds”, for a laugh.

Do bear in mind that however you costume Liza, she may have a very fast change at the end of each scene. She’s going to have a number of changes and these need to be drilled to within an inch of their life. She will need assistance backstage during the show, for each change.

PROPS:

Brooks needs psych stuff. You could have a little fun with a pipe hat he does not use well or comfortably, and heaven knows the Brooks’ scenes need some humor and he needs to be humanized.

Liza should have an office filled with tools of the trade, and those should be reasonably accurate for the period selected by the production as a whole.

Props will be wildly different from production to production, depending on the period, the approach to the dream sequences, etc. You will absolutely need to be in close coordination with your director, and other designers.

LIGHTING:

This is a show that bounces from reality to the universe of a woman’s tormented mind. It’s also a musical play. That means that there will be many changes of mood and look, and many cues. You’ll need a versatile lighting plot that can pop the stage with musical comedy heat, and push into tight close-ups when needed in black and white. You’ll certainly need some spectacular washes, and I think smart lights for this show would be a huge plus. You’ll need two follow spots for duets like “This Is New.”

Regardless, you’ll be very busy running this show. I would not even consider this show without a computerized board with lots of pre-sets.

MAKE-UP:
Again, we’ll be passing from reality to fantasy.  That said, actors can’t suddenly change make-up, especially leads in two consecutive scenes.  Perhaps a judicious and creative usage of masks in the dream scenes might be interesting.  The dreams could bleed into reality when the four models come in to Liza’s office for their shoot, and the shoot includes masks.  That could be frightening for Liza and the audience.  Is this reality?  Have we slipped without knowing it?  Anyway, fashion make-up is often not far removed from fantasy make-up, especially today, and this could prove very useful and interesting.  Any creative approach will need to be coordinated with the director and other designers, and probably you’ll need approval if you plan to do anything along these lines to your star.  That said, Liza should be petty but plain at the start, and when in her office, until toward the end of the show when she starts to change.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
Director, Choreographer, Musical Director, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Light Designer, Liza, Russell, Randy, Brooks.

MY THOUGHTS:
What a show! Edited with great care and approached in a manner similar to the one described in detail above, I can’t help but believe that Lady In The Dark would absolutely devastate a modern audience. There is no show anywhere in the musical theater repertoire more “modern”, more “cutting edge,” and more musically rewarding. I get that it was authored in 1941, but that’s how it is, folks. It is Sondheim’s Follies decades earlier, but with more memorable songs and an edgier concept. It is the first true “concept musical,” and I believe, still easily amongst the best of that breed.

The issues are clear, though. The book should be somewhat curtailed, the music more integrated into the book that survives. I think the show needs a modern look, and needs to move away from spectacle for spectacle’s sake (until someone makes a movie version). I think the powerful psychological elements of the show should be extended to the physicalization of the show. And I think all of this can and should be done without a lot of stress.

There is another issue with the music/movement aspect of the design of Lady. The show is built to talk-talk-talk, then suddenly sing and move, then talk-talk-talk-talk. This may make (and it does, I fear) some of the talk-talk seem long and flat, and potentially uninteresting in contrast to the magic of the musical sequences. Somehow, a director may need to suggest that Liza’s nightmares are not very far from her conscious surface, whispering to her, pushing her.

There is another issue with the music/movement aspect of the design of Lady. The show is built to talk-talk-talk, then suddenly sing and move, then talk-talk-talk-talk. This may make (and it does, I fear) some of the talk-talk seem long and flat, and potentially uninteresting in contrast to the magic of the musical sequences. Note that there’s just over an hour of song in a show that may run as long as almost two and one-half hours at full length. Also, the music ends long before the play does, with a very long scene following the final song. I would say that the book does need to be edited, particularly the final scene. With or without an edit, somehow, a director may need to suggest that Liza’s nightmares are not very far from her conscious surface, whispering to her, pushing her. Music could be continued (using offstage singers and limited orchestrations, or orchestrations played quietly), basically reprised, in key moments and in the background during key moments of talk-talk scenes. Perhaps another actress could double Liza in these “dreaming while awake” sequences, and we could even see as well as hear what she sees in her mind, even as she works in her office, or speaks to Brooks. In other words, if you can’t do less book (and even if you can), it would be a good move to do more score, to literally underscore the psychological “action”, Liza’s evolving condition. And you can do this by literally rep[eating music and incidents with music that already exist in the score, no re-orchestration or re-writing needed, just re-introduction of certain themes strategically. And folks, that would very much pertain to the last scene.

One more thought about the final scene. “My Ship,” the song of her youth, is currently recalled by her well before the end of the show. I think it would be very wise indeed to move that to the end-end, as she and Charley are learning to work together. They talk-talk, and his voice fades as she steps away, smiling at him, and “in her mind,” she sings this glorious song to end the show. A much better use of “My Ship!” When she is supposed to sing it earlier in its entirety, leave a partial statement, perhaps a few lines only, and interrupt with Ben’s line telling her she has a lovely voice. Then, save the song in full statement for the final curtain. This edit can be done with great ease, it’s a natural, and I would not be surprised to discover that at some point in the writing, the authors had something like this in mind.