Lady in the Dark
The story is about Liza Elliott (Maria Friedman), a successful women's magazine editor who has started to have strange, disturbing dreams about the men in her life. The men are Kendall Nesbitt (Paul Shelley), a married man whom Liza has been having an affair with for many years, Randy Curtis (Steven Edward Moore), a top Hollywood film star, and Charley Johnson (Adrian Dunbar), the magazine's advertising manager, whom she detests and doesn't get a long with, but doesn't sack him because he's good at his job.
The dreams get worse for Liza when Kendall's wife agrees to a divorce, thus, he then asks Liza to marry him, but she cannot make up her mind as she is not sure if she loves him after all. Then to complicate matters, Randy gets an attraction for her and keeps asking her out for dinner and to top it all, Charley tells Liza that he is leaving her magazine to work on another.
Liza goes to see Dr. Alexandra Brooks (Hugh Ross), a psychiatrist, in a hope he can help her find out why she is having these dreams and why she is unable to cope anymore with making decisions in her life. Bit by bit the answer is unravelled.
Maria Freidman is a sensation is this musical, her performance is of the highest quality. She shows great warmth, comedy and skill playing the confused character very convincingly. A very talented lady who is going from strength to strength with each show she does. However , CHARLES SPENCER in THE DAILY TELEGRAPH review says "What scuppers Lady in the Dark, though, is the lack of warmth and audience involvement. Maria Friedman is one of our finest musical-theatre talents, but, although she communicates moments of mental distress as Liza, she never comes close to moving you."
Also putting in a fine performance is James Dreyfus, who is marvellous playing 'Russell Paxton' the magazine's camp photographer, a gem of a show from him that got the warmest reception from the audience.
The songs are not great or memorable and the choreography is not very inventive, but the songs are nethertheless delightful in tone with the story . BERNARD LEVIN in THE TIMES review says "...the music of this strange, fascinating work gives us at least a dozen beautiful pieces; some delicate, some robust, and there is plenty of genuine laughter to go with it all."
In all an entertaining couple of hours with some exceptional acting, making this a show well worth seeing.
Currently in repertoire at the Royal National Theatre, "Lady In The Dark" is a collaboration between Moss Hart, Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill.
Liza Elliott is the successful editor of Allure, a fashion magazine, in this story of relationships and psychoanalysis set in early 1940s America.
Liza visits the office of Dr. Brooks, a psychoanalyst, because her inability to make decisions about her personal life is having an effect on her professional life. There are three men currently in her life: Kendall Nesbitt, the proprietor of Allure; Randy Curtis, a Hollywood heart-throb, currently involved in a photographic session for the magazine; and Charley Johnson, her tetchy and testy advertising manager.
Her indecision about her feelings for the three men is mirrored in her uncertainty over the direction of the magazine, and she confronts these doubts through a series of three dream as a result of her talking to the psychoanalyst.
"Lady In The Dark" is not your usual song-dialogue-song-dialogue musical show. All the dialogue takes place in either Liza's office or the office of Dr Brooks, with the musical numbers being performed consecutively in three separate sequences.
The simple set, made of tall triangular frames, filled with translucent cloth, allows the action to switch effortlessly from the plain, surroundings of the two offices to the brightly coloured settings for the dreams. The themes of the dreams (Glamour, Marriage, Circus) allow for sumptuous costumes, designed by Nicky Gillibrand, reminiscent of 1940's Hollywood musicals, combined with splendid choreography by Quinny Sacks.
The cast is flawless, with strong performances from Charlotte Cornwell as Maggie Grant, a colleague of Liza Elliott, Paul Shelley as Kendall Nesbitt, the magazine proprietor, and Steven Edward Moore as Randy Curtis, the Hollywood screen idol.
Adrian Dunbar gives a fine performance as the cantankerous Charley Johnson, and James Dreyfus almost steals the show as the effeminate photographer, Russell Paxton, especially with his rendition of the song "Tschaikowsky".
But the true highlight of the production is the outstanding portrayal of Liza Elliott by Maria Friedman. Whether she is dazzling the audience with the song and dance routines inviting memories of Ginger Rogers, or invoking their compassion when her professional strength gives way to personal vulnerability, or amazing them with her circus prowess, she dominates the stage in an extraordinary way.
Unless you are familiar with the work of Kurt Weill, the musical numbers in this show will be new to you, but I can guarantee that you, as I was, will be haunted in the same way as Liza Elliott by the strains of the recurring theme of the score, "My Ship".
Is it possible for a play to be both ahead of its time and hopelessly outdated? That's my assessment of the National Theatre's production of the seldom-seen Moss Hart/Ira Gershwin/Kurt Weill musical "Lady in the Dark." The play's construction, with fully-integrated songs and its exploration of psychoanalysis must have seemed avant garde to a 1940's audience. Now that we're used to that kind of thing in a musical, the broad humor and typically flat and cliched depiction of some of the minor characters is unfashionable. Still, this is a very enjoyable trip to the theatre, especially for those who want an escape from the bloated productions and pyrotechnics of other West End musicals.
The production values, particularly in the dream sequences, are often stunning. The costumes and lighting give the sequences an appropriately surrealistic and eerie feeling. The deceptively simple set, with its translucent triangular panels are both functional and suggestive of the ship motif that haunts Liza's dreams.
The performance level varies. The cast seem to be actors rather than singers. Perhaps it is because I am an actor, but I prefer an actor who can't sing to a singer who can't act. Accordingly, I preferred Adrian Dunbar as Liza's cantankerous advertisment manager, Charley Johnson, to Stephen Edward Moore as the heartthrob actor Randy Curtis, though neither one of them embarrasses himself! Moore sings thrillingly and does well as the toothy and somewhat plastic matinee idol. Dunbar, fast becoming one of my favorite actors, commits himself well during his musical numbers. Despite a somewhat wobbly accent, he carries himself most like an American apart from the real American actors in the cast, with an appropriate loose-limbed cynicism and cockiness. I also enjoyed James Dreyfus as the bitchy photographer. The star of the show, however, is Maria Friedman in a star turn as Liza Elliott. She seems more hard edges than soft ones, but she is vulnerable when recalling the pain of her childhood. She shines in the showstopping "The Saga of Jenny," and her chemistry with Adrian Dunbar is just right. She takes full advantage of the Gershwin/Weill score. Her rendition of the haunting "My Ship" is beautifully touching.
Hart, Gershwin, and Weill created a musical very much a part of, and yet ahead of, its time. With a little dusting down and spiffing up, the musical should grow beyond its current space at the Lyttelton to become deservedly familiar to a new generation of theatre fans and musical buffs.
(Nancy A Phillips)