Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Lady in the Dark

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 26, 2019

Victoria Clark
Photo by Richard Termine

Catching an actual live production of Lady in the Dark, the 1941 musical with book by Moss Hart, music by Kurt Weill, and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, is akin to spotting a rare bird in the wilderness. If you are familiar with it at all, it's most likely to be from the 1963 studio cast recording with Risë Stevens in the leading role, or perhaps from the 1997 London production starring Maria Friedman. Aficionados may have in their collection one of the cobbled-together recordings with the show's original star, Gertrude Lawrence, or even a DVD of the 1954 TV production with Ann Southern. All of which is a roundabout way of saying, fans or the curious should get a move on to catch one of the two remaining MasterVoices semi-staged performances of the production at City Center. Cuz this baby ain't gonna be coming around again anytime soon.

Lady in the Dark is an odd sort of musical. This is not meant as an insult. In its way, it's as conceptually creative as Follies. It is a one-of-a-kind work in which the songs are organized into set pieces, rather like the self-contained "Loveland" section of the Sondheim show. There are three of these in all (Weill likened them to mini-operas), book-ended by a pair of substantial non-musical sections. It tells the story of Liza Elliott, the editor of a fashion magazine, a smart, hardworking, confident and competent businesswoman who suddenly has become unsure of herself and who seeks the assistance of a psychoanalyst to help her get to the bottom of things. The three sections represent dream sequences, each with its own loosely constructed theme.

The MasterVoices presentation is, as I have noted, semi-staged, so you will not be getting the full experience. But what you will get is not so shabby: Victoria Clark in the title role, along with Amy Irving as Liza's psychotherapist, Ashley Park and Montego Glover as Liza's office mates, Ron Raines, Ben Davis, and Christopher Innvar as the men in her life, and, in multiple roles, the wonderful comic actor David Pittu. You'll also get some fine singing by the 120-member MasterVoices chorus, innovative dancing choreographed by Doug Varone and Dancers, and music performed by the members of the Orchestra of St. Luke's, all under the direction of Ted Sperling. The look is completed by Doug Fitch's art deco set design and some truly sumptuous outfits. I lost count of how many times Ms. Clark changed, but she does wear several eye-popping gowns that have been provided by Zac Posen, Marchesa, and Thom Browne, with Tracy Christensen responsible for the rest of the costumes.

Lady in the Dark has produced at least a couple of songs that continue to be performed with some regularity, including the haunting theme of the show, "My Ship " that begins "My ship has sails that are made of silk/The decks are trimmed with gold." There is also the catchy "The Saga of Jenny", with the chorus, "Poor Jenny, bright as a penny/Her equal would be hard to find." Julie Andrews sang that one in the movie "Star," if you'd care to track it down. Outside of these, my favorite is the toe-tapping swing number "One Life to Live."

The three dream sequences are "the Glamour Dream," the "Wedding Dream" and the "Circus Dream." The crowd pleaser in any production is always the last one, a comic tour de force that comes off as a Ringling Brothers extravaganza as seen through the eyes of Fellini. This also is the best section of the MasterVoices production, where everyone seems to be having a grand old time.

To be sure, there are some clunky moments. The production doesn't make the best use of City Center's endlessly wide stage, so that some of the performers have to sprint to get from one end to the other in time to hit their mark. In addition, no one has quite figured out how to set up the sound system to accommodate at various times the solo performances and the singing by the entire chorus. There's also a sense that the production as a whole is under-rehearsed, which, of course, makes sense when so many different people and elements are involved. Since I saw the very first performance last night, perhaps some of these issues will have been resolved by now. Regardless, if you're considering going, I wouldn't hesitate to check out the availability of tickets. Even with some flaws, it's not like you can wait for the next time this comes around.

Lady in the Dark
Through April 27
New York City Center Mainstage, 131 West 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: