Book & Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson
Music by Kurt Weill
adapted from the book, Cry, The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton

INFO:

Opened at the Music Box Theater    October 30, 1949    281 performances (many revivals)
Original Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Original Choreographer: Mamoulian
Original Producer: The Playwright’s Company
Original Leads: Stephen Komalo: Todd Duncan (the original “Porgy” in “Porgy & Bess”)  Irina: Inez Matthews
Cast Size: Male: 9, 1 boy    Female: 2    Ensemble: as many as you can    Total Cast Size: 18 or bigger
Orchestra: (Weill is the only major Broadway composer to orchestrate his own works, and this one is beautiful.) 12 (a small orchestra for a piece like this!) Could be done with piano, drums.
Published Script: Chilton
Production Rights: Rodgers & Hammerstein Library
Recordings: The original Broadway is good. The songs presented as a part of the Off-Broadway production, Berlin to Broadway With Kurt Weill, are incredibly well performed. The film is mediocre.
Film: With Brock Peters, a mediocre and rather flat edition of this gorgeous show.
Other shows by the authors: Knickerbocker Holiday. Weill: The Threepenny Opera, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Happy End, Johnny Johnson, Knickerbocker HolidayLady In The Dark, One Touch of Venus, Love Life, Street Scene, Berlin To Broadway With Kurt Weill

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

The cast for Lost In The Star is mostly Black, and there is no way around this casting imperative. So you will need a company of actors who sing very well indeed, who are mostly Black. What’s more, it would be good if the cast had real acting chops. This would be a fantastic show for companies large enough to support its needs. Colleges and Universities might consider it, and might be best suited to it, outside of professional and regional companies. Opera companies might consider it, as well. Smaller theaters in racially polarized or mixed communities might find it very interesting.

Be Warned:

The music is quite difficult for the orchestra, the singers, everyone. Weill was a classically-trained composer with operas and symphony’s under his belt, believed singers in a work like this should have serious voices and ranges, and that the musicians should be pro and up to the challenge. If that does not sound like your company, do not do this show.

This is a show that deals with the most difficult of subjects. It is all about apartheid, hatred, the loss of one’s own children, murder, robbery, getting along at the expense of others, women giving birth out of wedlock, you name it, a veritable parade of human woes. There are companies, Directors and audiences who hunger for serious fare of this kind, and there’s precious little of it. But there are also many companies that can not and should not attempt a piece so determined to make us think, to educate, to put the audience (and actors) through a kind of emotional hell in order to end up in a place of understanding. In short, you have to want to do exactly this kind of show to do this show. You should be looking for a challenge to your musicians, your actors, and your audience. This show will provide. If you are not looking for a challenge, do something else.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: We see “The Hills of Ixopo”, in South Africa, and they are described as desolate, hopeless. Stephen Kumalo, a Black Minister, sits with his wife, Grace. A girl brings Stephen a letter. It’s from Johannesburg. He had hoped it was from his son, Absalom, but it’s not. It’s from Stephen’s brother, John. In the letter, John complains that Stephen sent their sister, Gertrude, to Johannesburg, and that she’s developed a bad reputation which is bad for his business. Grace suggests he go to Johannesburg, suing money they had saved for Absalom schooling, which he will never now use. He could bring Gertrude home, but that would mean they had given up on their son, who they have not heard from in so long. Stephen asks how far it is to the heart of a son. “Thousands of Miles”. His wife begs him to use the money and go to Johannesburg, to find their son.

On the “Train To Johannesburg”, Black young men go but never return. On that train, James Jarvis, his son Arthur, and his Grandson Edward, English and white, talk. Stephen enters with Grace, and Arthur, happy to see him, approaches. Stephen explains what he’s going to do in Johannesburg. Jarvis lets his son know that, in talking publicly to a Black man, he has brought disgrace to the family.

The train arrives. Stephen, with a young boy named Alex, apparently Gertrude’s son, who will return home with Stephen, but Gertrude will not. Stephen meets John at his tobacco shop. John is a “realist” who does not care if Blacks get rights or are treated well, so long as he survives and does well. John lets Stephen know that Absalom used to hang out with John’s son, Matthew, and they both worked in the mines. But Absalom was a “bad influence”, and John kicked him out. He has an address. Stephen and Alex go on “The Search” for Absalom, all over Johannesburg. The trail leads them to people who knew Absalom. One woman advises him, for his own good, not to follow the trail. He later discovers that, for some reason, his son went to jail. Then he’s told that Absalom was paroled, because his woman was pregnant, though unmarried.

That night, resting, Alex asks what it will be like to live in a small village with Stephen, and Stephen described “The Little Gray House”, homey and warm.

In a dive in shanty town, Absalom, Matthew and others sit and drink, as a woman sings “Who’ll Buy”, selling herself. They all lampoon White justice and law. Matthew plans a break into a house with Absalom. Matthew wants to bring a gun, Absalom does not. They’re interrupted by Irina, Absalom’s woman, who tells him the parole officer (helping Stephen find Absalom) has come looking for the young man. Irina wants to know when they can be together. She fears he will be caught and go to jail; forever. He thinks about it, and tells Matthew he wants no part of the break in. Matthew talks him into going.

At Irina’s hut, the parole officer enters with Stephen, introducing his to Irina as Absalom’s father. Stephen more or less grills her for information. He tests her morals, finds her wanting. He leaves her with his address, and continues the search. Alone, Irina agonizes over the “Trouble Man” she is in love with.

In Arthur Jarvis’ home, Absalom and Matthew break in. They are found out, and in his panic, Absalom shoots and kills Arthur. (“Murder In Parkwold”) James (Arthur’s father) questions the officer who is investigating the murder. James finds it grim that his son, an activist for negro equality, should have been murdered by a negro. The policeman points out that every group has good and bad people. On the street, Blacks and Whites alike live in “Fear!” of what might happen next.

Stephen arrives at the jail, called by the officer who aided him, to find his son incarcerated. He is told that Absalom is accused of killing Arthur Jarvis, who happened to have been Stephen’s friend. Stephen speaks to his son, who now says that he will never come home. He has killed a white man, they will kill him for it.

Alone with Alex, Stephen writes to his wife to explain what has happened. The boy believes that, as a Minister, Stephen can pray and God will save Absalom. But Stephen has come to believe that we are all “Lost In The Stars”, that perhaps there is no God, just the stars blowing through the night.

ACT TWO: The ensemble and their leader sing of the impossibility of finding any justice among men. (“The wild Justice”) In the tobacco shop, John instructs Stephen on how to lie to the court to get the boys off. But Absalom has told Stephen that he is guilty, and that his son will not lie anymore. Alone, Stephen begs the holy powers that be, “O Tixo, Tixo, Help Me”.

An upper-class residence in Johannesburg. Stephen knocks at the door, and Jarvis opens it. Jarvis sees that Stephen is not doing well, and tries to help him. Finally, Stephen tells the man that his son killed Jarvis’ son. He begs for his son’s life. Jarvis lectures him. He says there are two races in South Africa, one capable of self-control, the other, not. And he insists that those who kill must die. Stephen points out that is not what Christ says., but Jarvis responds that where there is a government, it is the way.

Irina hangs clothes to dry and dreams of the man she is losing. (“Stay Well”) Stephen meets with her. He warns her that Absalom may be in jail for many years. She says she will wait for him.

In court. Absalom is asked why he carried a gun to the break in, and he says it was to frighten the servants. In the end, the other boys are let off, but Absalom is sentenced to hang. The Chorus sing mournfully of the bigotry and hate and violence that strangle their lives. (“Cry, The Beloved Country”) In the jail, Stephen marries Absalom and Irina. It is all he can do.

Alex plays with two other Black children at the chapel, back home, and sings of a legendary Black miner from Johannesburg. (“Big Mole”) Alex ends up talking to Edward, Arthur’s son. The children get along fine, without people to tell them what to think or feel. James Jarvis enters, and tells his grandson that while he is living with him, the boy must never speak in public again to a Black person.

In the chapel, Stephen speaks to his congregation, as Jarvis watches. Stephen resigns his position. His son wioll be put to death the next day, and Stephen describes the murdered man as a great man. Stephen feels that if he stays, he will hinder the survival of the church. They all sing “A Bird of Passage”, that life enters and exits, into the dark.

“Four ‘O Clock”, the hour of Absalom’s death, approaches. Jarvis shows up at Stephen’s door, much as Stephen had shown up at his earlier. He asks to enter and Stephen,. Surprised that this man would enter his home, allows it. Jarvis offers to help keep the church going, after what Stephen said yesterday. And Jarvis admits that he is troubled now. He’s lost his own wife and son, and he finds that Stephen is the only man in this valley he would wish to have as a friend. He will take Stephen’s hand wherever he likes, whenever he likes. And there will be a tomorrow for both men. Jarvis insists Stephen stay in this town and care for the church. They have each found a kindred spirit, a friend, even as Absalom’s time arrives.

THE SONGS:

“The Hills of Ixopo”, “Thousands of Miles”, “Train To Johannesburg”, “The Search”, “The Little Gray House”, “Who’ll Buy”, “Trouble Man”, “Murder In Parkwold”, “Fear!”, “Lost In The Stars”, “The Wild Justice”, “Oh Tixo, Tixo, Help Me”, “Stay Well”, “Cry The Beloved Country”, “Big Mole”, “A Bird of Passage”, “Four O’ Clock”

Hits include “Trouble Man”, “Lost In The Stars”, “Cry The Beloved Country”

MY OPINIONS:

As ever, feel free to skip or ignore my opinions and rating.  But if you do, don’t be surprised if you find yourself…lost in the stars.

A beautiful, stunning, vibrant, deeply moving score. There is no musical score more original, emotional, or filled with overpowering passion in all of the Musical Theater. Weill was Broadway’s finest musical dramatist, and this was his final score. It is a masterwork in many respects.

Anderson’s lyrics had improved somewhat since he and Weill wrote Knickerbocker Holiday, and of course, that show had “September Song” in the score, my vote for the most beautiful song of the 20th century. “Lost In The Stars” gets my vote for the next most beautiful song. Anderson was less of a lyricist and more of a poetical dramatist, I guess, but he and Weill made magic together.

The script is a little purple sometimes, a bit over the top, and sometimes characters repeat themselves in ways that could improve with a slight edit. But the script is also literate and passionate, far deeper than most Musical Theater entries. This show reaches for the stars, and almost touches them.

This is inherently about a mid-sized show, but I think a creative approach could make it quite a bit smaller. Many roles could be doubled up, and make the show a greater challenge for the cast.

Can this show be done today, with apartheid all but dead in South Africa? Of course. Bigotry will always be alive and well in some part of the world. In a way, this show may be a historical document, but it is also a living, current drama about something dark and vile and destructive that lurks in every civilization. It will always be timely.

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

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

You’re going to need an exceptionally good Musical Director. Kurt Weill’s music is amongst the most complex and detailed in all of Musical Theater.

Stephen – A mature baritone with a large range and a real belt, almost operatic in quality.

Irina – Huge, emotive, well-controlled alto voice with top note.

Jarvis – Non-Singing.

Absalom – Non-Singing.

Leader – A base baritone with a big belt, fantastic emotional expression.

Alex – A young, powerful, clear voice, tenor.

Arthur – Non-Singing.

Edward – Non-Singing.

John Kumalo – Non-Singing. (Could double in ensemble chorus)

Matthew Kumalo- Non-Singing. (Should double in ensemble chorus)

Eland – Non-Singing.

Grace Kumalo – Non-Singing. (Could double in ensemble chorus)

Ensemble – Nearly operatic in quality, all ranges. Very few shows rely on the ensemble for narration and emotional content, as this one does. There is more choral singing here than is usual, by far. The ensemble will serve as a sort of Greek Chorus. They must be strong, interesting and interested.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

The show doesn’t really require the services of a Choreographer.  The Director, however, should be comfortable staging to music.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Stephen – A mature Black man, at least in his late 40s, could be as old as 60s. A Minister in a small town, of a broken-down but sincere little church. A man of intense faith and deep personal values, sincere, capable of gentle humor and patience, but equally capable of some fire and brimstone where it will serve his purpose. A symbol of the best of South Africa, Nelson Mandela before there was a Nelson Mandela. Requires a seriously wonderful voice. Cast for age and type, voice, acting. Really must be a marvelous actor, as well.

Irina – In her twenties, attractive, Black, but a lost soul who finally fins out she does believe in some things, including love. “Trouble Man” is one of the most emotional songs ever composed. If the actress can’t deliver this song in all its power, she’s not right for the role. Cast for type, voice, acting in that order.

Jarvis – Non-Singing. White, 50s-60s. A man of South Africa, a firm believer that Blacks cannot self-govern, that Whites must rule, and that whites, in the minority, are always in danger. A man of firm beliefs and biases, capable of outward expressions of hatred, bigotry, even disgust. But somewhere in there is a good man who can be touched, can be reached and changed by kindness, and by life. He loves his family, and perhaps that is the path he can be moved by. Must make a believable emotionally-charged transition, and that’s quite hard. Cast for type and acting.

Absalom – Non-Singing. In his 20s, essentially a good man, young and vital, who has been brought low by apartheid. He feels trapped, finally, as if there is no other way but crime. But there is an essential core of honesty and rightness in him the wins through at the end, and costs him his life. Cast for type and acting.

Leader – A powerful presence, mature man, a physical expression of the pain Blacks in South Africa feel over apartheid. Cast for voice, some acting.

Alex – A young boy, perhaps 9-12, with a strong voice, an inexhaustible curiosity. Good-hearted, just wants to have fun. Cast for age and type, voice, then acting.

Arthur – A White man in his 20s-30s, an advocate for Black equal rights. Energetic, committed, a fine man. Cast for type and acting.

Edward – About Alex’ age, a White boy who is open to the world, open to experience. Cast for type and acting.

John Kumalo – Younger than Stephen, his brother. Everything Stephen is not. Cynical, opportunistic, crass, a survivor. Streetwise in ways Stephen could only dream of. Cast acting and type. (Could double in ensemble chorus, in which case, must sing.)

Matthew Kumalo- About Absalom’s age. Young, cynical Black man, desperate and determined. Does not back away from violence. Cast acting and type. (Should double in ensemble chorus, in which case, must sing.)

Eland – 20s-50s. White parole officer and investigator in Johannesburg. A good man, intelligent, patient, determined, who believes in fairness for all. Practical, pragmatic, but also idealistic.

Grace Kumalo – Stephen’s loving and kind wife, generous to a fault, deeply committed to family and home. Cast for acting and type. (Could double in ensemble chorus, in which case, must sing.)

Ensemble – Mostly Black actors and actresses with very strong, nearly operatic voices, good musicianship, a variety of types and ages. A few White actors and actresses, too, who also must sing. Some movement for all may be required, but not much.

SETS:

There are too many sets in this show to do them in a literal manner, today. Also, moving on and off this number of sets will slow the proceedings immensely. I think the show should be performed on a unit set of sorts, something symbolic and representative of apartheid and hate. A chapel, perhaps, with open stage where the parishioners would normally sit. And the cross, at the back of the stage, could be covered with images and headlines of bloody oppression, and even graffiti. The rest of the sets could occupy the floor as furniture, as needed, but even these could be stylized to somehow connect up to the apartheid theme.

Stephen’s Home is small, simple, clean, and gray. Perhaps a small, sweet tree outside a free-standing door, a small table and a few chairs. A tea pot. Small plates and bowls, cups and spoons. An inviting, simple place. Roll it all on and off, or carry the table.

The railroad station and the train can be a set of seats set up simply by the cast. Perhaps the chairs face in many directions, people leaving this place to go anywhere.

The Tobacco Shop could be a sign, simple and hand-painted, dropped down on wire from the rafters. Underneath, a simple rolled-on display case, a chair or two.

Various lodgings in Shanty Town, dark, ill-lit, an unforgiving bed, or a beaten wooden stool, a considerable step down from Stephen’s home. A wire to hang Irina’s clothes.

The search, go for less set, not more. Use chairs as door frames and cars. The Parole Office can have simple jail cell bars on one side, also covered to match the great cross at the back of the stage. This will double for the prison, later.

Arthur’s house should smack of some wealth. A nice crystal lamp of some sort, well-dressed servants. Without getting into set pieces, make it clear that he lives well.

The courtroom in Act II could open the set up a bit. Roll on a stand for Absalom and other witnesses. Place the Judge on high, in front of the cross, with it looming over the man. Perhaps he is behind a podium of some sort, but stretched, high, and covered in the same artwork as the other set pieces.

Only the courtroom and Arthur’s house should feel large, expansive. Other spaces should feel almost claustrophobic, contained, restricted, even jail-like.

I would make an effort at design unity, at a look that helped communicate the theme, while making set changes that can happen in seconds, and with transitions that can be easily integrated into the movement of the play. No stops would be the best way to deliver this story.

You will be building this set, I think. It can’t be rented.

COSTUMES:

Period 1940s South Africa. There must be a considerable difference between the costuming of Whites and Blacks. Blacks just get by, are poor, beaten by life. Their clothing should often be distressed, even Stephen’s inexpensive Ministerial garb. There are many pictures and films from the period, of South Africa.


Notice how the two White women are facing away from the two Black people? And they do not share a bench. In the second shot, the White women look with distaste and even hatred at the Blacks walking in front of them.

As you can see, costuming will generally be simple. The photo on the right above is of men on their way down to work in a mine, as Absalom has done. And photos pf White South Africans, at the time:

The second photo is of the kind of march for equality that Arthur might have participated in. You get the idea. There’s not much that’s specialized. Demonstrate relative wealth. John has money compared to many Blacks in South Africa at that time. He sees himself as a businessman.

This is the sort of show that can be dressed easily out of your costume shop, people’s closets and thrift stores. Not too rough an assignment.

PROPS:

A Bible for Stephen, and a cross for his Ministerial garb. A gun, and another for the policeman. Clothes for Irina to hang up. Small bowls and cups for Stephen’s house. There will be props, but they’re fairly simple. Not too hard to do quickly.

LIGHTING:

This is a very moody show. It is easy to light it in shadows, dark and grim. Don’t do it. In the end, Lost In The Stars is a celebration of the human spirit and its ultimate triumph over our own biases. The end of the show should feel triumphant, even as Absalom is put to death. The lighting should be dramatic, stirring, hard light shed without mercy on a difficult subject. The design work should align with the Director’s approach to the show, but if you’re largely working on a bare stage, lighting the show in interesting ways that direct attention and enhance the drama will be imperative. Scenes like “The Search”, which moves rapidly from location to location and into despair as it goes, or into hope, change rapidly and will need creative assistance from the lighting.

I would think that the lighting will be a critical creative component of the design of this show.

MAKE-UP:

Simple, unobtrusive. You might show the dirt and grime of life in the mines, in Johannesburg, but I wouldn’t go too far.

The Leader of the Chorus should be almost larger than life, a mythic expression of the grief of a people. The make-up might reflect something larger than life for this character.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Set Designer, Light Designer, Stephen, Irina, James Jarvis. Leader

MY THOUGHTS:

One of the most emotional, deeply felt, and beautiful of all musicals. A musical play, not a musical comedy, with ties to opera. The script is interesting and detailed, and unlike anything else found in the Musical Theater. It is dramatic, perhaps a bit purple, but it has the power to move an audience if well acted, and amplified by the music, it could create an unforgettable experience.

Another way this show is different is in how remarkably little material is sung by the lead characters. Stephen has five numbers, and is well-represented, and Irina has two. Alex, the young boy, has a song. That’s it. And the Chorus shares much of Stephen’s material. In some ways, this show is a throwback to Greek tragedy, something Maxwell Anderson and the Director, Rouben Mamoulian, had to have been aware of. This can provide the show a sense of statue, and of formality, which could be worked to the show’s advantage…or render the show stiff and unwatchable. I think the Chorus must move while singing, when it feels right. They should occupy the entire stage, not just a corner or the center. They should be alive and fluid, since the show borrows much of its feel from what the Chorus will do.

This show brings to mind Oscar Hammerstein’s work. He often wrote pieces that commented on bigotry, such as South Pacific and The King & I. In a way, Lost In The Stars is a result of Hammerstein’s crusade to make Musicals more socially aware and a part of the discussion, especially as it concerns bigotry. Perhaps this show would not have existed if not for Hammerstein’s earlier efforts.