Sunday, May 5, 2019

Lady in the Dark - An Enlightening Journey

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

The one thing most people will tell you when it comes to dreams is that they often don't make sense. Either literally or chronologically. Different people from various aspects of one’s life coming together in ways not possible in the waking world, but making perfect sense in the context of the dream. As for what it all means, that's a matter for psychoanalytic study. It’s also the premise Moss Hart, Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin used as a starting point for the 1941 Broadway musical Lady in the Dark. The original production running 467 performances, though it has rarely been revived in New York since. MasterVoices happily deciding to return the show to the Big Apple stage with a recent, and all-to-brief run at New York City’s Center.

Lady in the Dark tells the story of Liza Elliott (Victoria Clark). The hard driving, buttoned-down editor of the fashion magazine “Allure”. A well-regarded industry trendsetter in telling women what to wear, how to look and what to do in order to feel good about themselves. Always on top of her game, Liza is one of those folks who is married to her job. Something Charlie Johnson (Christopher Innvar), the publication's head of advertising, points out.

Lately however, Liza has been having some unsettling dreams. Ones she can recall in vivid detail. These episodes are starting to interfere with her work and causing her to begin to doubt her professional abilities. She is also unable to make up her mind about certain decisions - ones both work-related and personal. Her 10 year-relationship with the married Kendall Nesbitt (Ron Raines) about to change, now that his wife has finally agreed to give him a divorce.

        Victoria Clark and MasterVoices Company in the Circus Dream. Photo by Richard Termine.

At her wit’s end and with nowhere else to turn, Liza goes to see Dr. Brooks (Amy Irving), someone who specializes in psychoanalysis. A field Liza initially has little faith in; though at this point, she is willing to try anything. This turning out to be a wise decision on her part. For, as Liza begins to describe her dreams, ones where she is the center of attention, reveling in the adoration she receives from others, it is Dr. Brooks who points out how Liza’s dream persona is completely the opposite of how she is in real life. It’s through the descriptions of these dreams – ones which are acted out on stage – that Liza’s turmoil starts to become clear.

What the show's creators are saying with Lady in the Dark – the title itself an indication of how Clark’s character increasingly finds herself – is the importance of getting in touch with one’s feelings. The show also taking pains to point out how painful childhood memories can have a lasting effect on a person’s psyche. Even if the original cause of any such trauma may have been completely unintended. While the analysis sessions are rather oversimplified (something noted in the show program), all involved - including Christopher Hampton and Kim Kowalke, who worked on the script adaptation for this production - treat the subject matter with a genuine respect. They meaning to show Liza’s journey to be only the starting point for the work she has to do in order to continue to grow.

A brilliant move was to have all of the musical sequences take place only within the confines of the dreams. This allowing for the use of different motifs and styles without violating the overall premise of the story. Various members of the company performing different roles during these sequences. Roles which ranged from high society types at a nightclub to members of a circus troupe.

The score is enjoyable, if not altogether memorable. The two major exceptions to this being "The Tschaikowsky", a humorous ditty that's expertly delivered by David Pittu; and “The Saga of Jenny”, as brilliantly sung by Clark. The latter, a rather nonsensical song when one listens to the narrative, but one which works perfectly in the confines of the circus dream sequence. Offering excellent musical background work when required were the MasterVoices ensemble. The orchestra, conducted by MasterVoices Artistic Director Ted Sperling, ably helping to set the tone for the various sections; although the music and chorus voices did make it hard to hear the lyrics at points. Especially during the early portion of the story.

        Victoria Clark and Doug Varone Dancers in the Glamour Dream. Photo by Richard Termine.

Sperling also does a good job as the show's director, he nicely handling the character development and overall progression of the story. Particularly during the transitional moments when the tale shifts from dreams to reality. The appropriate actions exaggerated or toned down as required. Tracey Christensen's costumes are excellent, particularly the different outfits Clark wore in the dream sequences, as well as the garments used by the different characters in the circus section. Also very nicely done is Doug Varone's choreography - both with the slow, ballet-like numbers and the more energetic comedic pieces.

Clark shines throughout and offers a strong stage presence as Liza; whether trying to understand why her life is suddenly coming apart, or as part of a dream that may hold key to what ails her. Raines is nicely dependable in the pretty much thankless roles of Nesbitt. Pittu does an excellent comic turn as Russell Paxton, a staff photographer at the magazine, milking his lines for all they're worth. He also garnering laughs as a rather over the top circus ringmaster.

Innvar works well as Charlie, and makes a very good caustic foil for Liza. The chemistry clearly visible between the two characters, with each showing an underlying respect for the other. Ben Davis does quite well as Hollywood star Randy Curtis. A man who seemingly has it all, yet is perhaps in need of his own time on the couch. Irving does a good job is the subdued but pivotal role of Dr. Brooks.

Lady in the Dark offers a strong example of the Broadway musical coming of age and not afraid to tackle subjects outside the norm. The recent offering by MasterVoices proving to be, while not completely perfect, a fine offering indeed.

Featuring: Victoria Clark (Liza Elliott), Amy Irving (Dr. Brooks), Ashley Park (Miss Foster/Sutton), Montego Glover (Maggie Grant), David Pittu (Russell Paxton/Beekman/Ringmaster), Christopher Innvar (Charley Johnson/Marine), Ben Davis (Randy Curtis), Ron Raines (Kendall Nesbitt/Pierre), Ruby Sperling Waxman (Young Liza), Bradley Beakes (Ben), Emma Hart (Barbara).

Doug Varone Dancers: Courtney Barth, Hollis Bartlett, Bradley Beakes, Jake Bone, Whitney Dufrene, Madeline Irmen, DeQuan Lewis, Ashley Merker, Aya Wilson, Ryan Yamauchi.

Chamber Chorus: Miriam Baron (Mrs. Bennett), Colton Beach, Jennifer Bell (Liza’s Mother), Jessica Bobadilla, Nicole Coffaro, Takira Cross, Mark Filatov, Joan Harris (Guest), Nina Hennessey (Schoolteacher), Taylor Hopkins (Schoolboy Announcer), Laura Kroh, Luisa Lyons, Reina Muniz, Sheikh Muhtade, Cindy Ohanian-Aledjian, Mikhail Pontenila, Bob Reichstein (Guest), Edsel Romero (Liza’s Father), Jim Roume-les, John Sabatos (Charles), Ronny Viggiani, Erin Winchester.

Lady in the Dark
Music by Kurt Weill
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Book by Moss Hart
Script Adaptation by Christopher Hart & Kim Kowalke
Ted Sperling, Conductor and Director
Doug Varone: Choreographer
Doug Fitch: Scenic Designer
Tracy Christensen: Costume Designer
James F. Ingalls: Lighting Designer
Scott Lehrer: Sound Designer
Dave Bova; Wig and Hair Designer

Performed at New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
Performed April 25-27, 2019

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