Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The action takes place completely on the street in front of a New York City tenement building on a very hot day in 1946. At the center of the opera is Rose Maurrant, a young woman who lives on the second floor of the building. Rose is just starting her adult life but has to deal with the scandal brewing about her mother Anna's illicit affair with a man who works for the local milk delivery company, while facing her brutish and violent father Frank and also watching out for her carefree younger brother Willie. Rose also has her share of love interests. Her downstairs neighbor Sam Kaplan is enamored with her and she receives advances from a married man who works at her company. There is also the constant issue of the busybody women who live in her building and have their noses in everyone's business. The leader of this group is Mrs. Jones, though she has issues of her own with a constantly drinking husband, a son who we see sexually harass Rose, and a daughter who stays out all night drinking and partying. Over a period of two days, we witness the building's residents as they go about their lives and reveal their dreams and desires while love, new life, and tragedy are just around the corner.
With more than two dozen songs that range from operatic arias to comedy pieces, jazz infused songs, and traditional musical theatre numbers, as well as some beautiful and rich underscoring, Weill's sweeping and sophisticated music, which received the first Tony Award for Best Score, is impressive, with moments that range from lush to romantic and even foreboding. Langston Hughes' lyrics are succinct and eloquent, and also often humorous, while Elmer Rice's book features believable characters, dialogue and situations. The show may remind you of Porgy and Bess due to the dark subject matter, sweeping score, and rich characters who are having their share of troubles. However, as good, full and accomplished as the show and score are, there aren't any memorable, standalone songs or arias.
Under Patrick Hansen's skilled direction, the members of ASU's entire cast deliver realistic performances that are bursting with energy. Jasmine Rodriguez and Samantha N. Dávalos are superb as Rose and Anna Maurrant, respectively. They beautifully instill these women with layers and nuance that allow us to understand the difficulties they've encountered in their lives, and both have rich and beautiful operatic voices with sustained high notes that soar. Dávalos' aria about lost dreams, "Somehow I Never Could Believe," is gloriously sung and Rodriguez's solo "What Good Would the Moon Be" is brimming with longing and beauty.
Mason McDermaid is appropriately sweet, kind and caring as Sam Kaplan, and his solo of "Lonely House" and his duets with Rodriguez, "Remember that I Care" and "We'll Go Away Together," are expressively sung. As Frank Maurrant, Rose's father and Anna's husband, Mauricio Perusquia is convincingly controlling, loud and angry, yet his well thought-out portrayal shows that Frank is simply wishing for things to go back to how they were in the past.
There are also plenty of very good performances in the supporting and cameo roles. As busybody Emma Jones, Mary Ott is a knock out, with perfectly formed facial expressions and gestures, and rich vocals. Ben Krutsch brings great warmth to the role of Lippo Fiorentino; his song about his love for ice cream is a rousing crowd-pleaser. Kade Bailey and Greta Perlmutter deliver the fun song-and-dance number, "Moon-faced, Starry-eyed," with gleeful energy (Mary Corsaro's choreography is period perfect) as Dick McGann and Mae Jones; and Jacob Verhine is appropriately nervous without being over the top as Daniel Buchanan, the neighbor whose wife is about to have a baby.
The large orchestra, under Brian DeMaris' impeccably skilled music direction, sound phenomenal and, along with the cast, skillfully bridges the gap between opera and Broadway musical that a less gifted cast and orchestra may not have been able to accurately achieve. Alfredo Escarcega's beautiful set design of a large apartment building with three floors of windows and Sharon Jones' stunning costumes use a palette of blacks, whites and grays. I'm assuming this is to depict not only the period but also the lost hopes, dreams and loves of so many of the tenement's inhabitants, with the few pops of color, especially a bright suitcase at the end, a sign of hope for a brighter day. It's a very effective way to get across the themes of despair and hope that are so eloquently presented in the opera. Jeff Rollins' evocative lighting is stunning and perfectly depicts the cool hues of the late-night scenes and the bright and hot daytime sequences.
Street Scene may not have many memorable songs, but the score is quite rich, with songs that are operatic at times while traditional musical theatre the next, and the book and lyrics range from dramatic to comical while also effectively presenting the highs and lows, loves and losses, and intricate lives of a large group of ordinary people as they go about their daily activities.
Street Scene runs through March 1, 2020, at Arizona State University, Evelyn Smith Music Theatre, 50 E. Gammage Pkwy., Tempe AZ. Tickets and information are available at ASU.edu.
Music by Kurt Weill; book by Elmer Rice, based on his play, lyrics by Langston Hughes and Elmer Rice; co-production with McGill University
Stage Direction by Patrick Hansen