LADY IN THE DARK
A Musical Play in Two Acts, 7 Scenes. Music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, book by Moss Hart
Alvin Theatre, New York, 23 January 1941 (467 perfs)
Playhouse, Nottingham, England, 9 December 1981
A film version was produced by Paramount in 1944 with Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland.
Liza Elliott, editor of the fashion magazine Allure, has come to consult Dr. Brooks, a psychiatrist. She insists she is physically well and normal in her behaviour, but has been suffering from seizures of depression and fatigue. Asked by Dr. Brooks to describe anything that comes to mind, however insignificant, Liza mentions a song learned in childhood, which now haunts her continually in moments of terror because she cannot complete it. She begins to hum the song's initial motif, and we are carried for the first time into Liza's dream world. She is no longer the conservatively dressed and prim editor but a radiant, red-haired beauty to whom all pay homage. The scene melts away, and Dr. Brooks points out that in this dream Liza sees herself as a glamorous woman, unlike her appearance in real life. Another contradiction is that while Liza tells other women how to be beautiful in her magazine, she herself does not take advantage of this advice.
Back in Liza's office, a screen star, Randy Curtis, has come to be photographed for the magazine. After he leaves, Kendall Nesbitt, publisher of Allure and Liza's lover, arrives to inform her that his wife has finally agreed to divorce him and that they will soon be free to marry. This news does not have the expected exhilarating effect on Liza. On the contrary, she feels depressed and faint. Dismissing Kendall abruptly, she locks the door and falls wearily on a couch. Suddenly she begins to hum the child's tune, and drifts into another dream. In the dream which starts in her girlhood, she is going to marry Kendall Nesbitt, but Randy Curtis intervenes with a passionate declaration of love. In her indecision, she recalls a school play and suddenly the wedding ceremony degenerates into a nightmare.
At her next session with Dr. Brooks, Liza reveals that her preference for simple clothes dates from early childhood. She says she has a dinner date with Randy which she intends to break. Dr. Brooks points out that her fetish for plainness is a refusal to compete with other women, and that her dread of marriage comes from the fear of having Kendall all to herself. These revelations so anger Liza hat she rushes impetuously out of the office. The next morning Liza comes late to her office, where a new issue of Allure is going to press. When Kendall enters, she tells him she does not want to marry him. She is also abrupt with her advertising manager, Charley Johnson, who, because Liza is "married to her desk", has no chance for advancement and is leaving. Randy comes to take her to dinner. She had forgotten she had made this date, but decides to dress elegantly for the first time and join Randy for a night on the town.
Liza is in her office the following afternoon, where she cannot decide whether the cover design for the next issue will be a standard Easter cover or a circus scene. Magically the circus scene comes to life, with Russell Paxton, the photographer of Allure, as the ringmaster. The main event is a trial in which Liza is tried for her inability to make up her mind. Kendall Nesbitt gives evidence, there is an irrelevant but hilarious interruption and finally Liza tries to defend herself, but in vain.
That evening, Liza returns to Dr. Brooks and tells him that she has experienced once again the hurt and humiliation of her childhood. As she talks, Liza is carried back to the times when she was made to feel unattractive by her father, then scorned by her "prince" in a school play, and finally abandoned by her beau at the high school prom. Dr. Brooks emphasises that Liza, having lost a succession of boyfriends, sought refuge in being plain; that as a woman she has been denying herself this form of feminine identity. The lifting of the mental block brings release and she sings for the first time in its entirety the haunting song she has been trying to remember.
One week later at the office, Liza is in better spirits than she has been in months, and Randy urges her to marry him. She has the strength he needs, he confesses, since he himself is actually weak. Liza asks for time to think this proposal over, when Charley enters to say goodbye. For the first time Liza recognises a salient truth that has so long been eluding her: it is Charley that she loves. She asks him to stay and share the stewardship of the magazine.
9 men, 11 women, chorus
- Liza Elliott - The classic case of a successful career masking a deep-seated inadequacy as a woman. A combination of psycho-analysis and her relationships with several other men finally lead her out of the dark and to the ability to make the important decisions that she has evaded. (Soprano)
- Maggie Grant - The loyal friend and helpmate of Liza; she is intelligent, forbearing and genuinely caring, but not sensitive enough to recognise Liza's real problem, though she thinks she does. (Speaking role)
- Charley Johnson - World-weary, but the most genuine man in the Allure office or around Liza. And he is the only one who has sufficient strength not to need her. (Baritone)
- Kendall Nesbitt - Supportive and mature, his relationship with Liza emerges as one of dependence and he has great difficulty in accepting that she will not marry him. (Baritone)
- Randy Curtis - Superficially very attractive, he himself admits that he is lacking in self-confidence and sees in Liza a sheet-anchor, and that is something she cannot contemplate. (Baritone)
- Russell Paxton - Fey and self-centred, but obviously a considerable professional asset to the magazine. (Baritone)
- Alison du Bois - All French-polish on a very middle-American piece, she convinces nobody but herself. She displays insensitivity to atmosphere. (Speaking role)
- Dr. Brooks - A patient and sympathetic professional. (Speaking role)
- Miss Foster - Office stalwart. (Mezzo-soprano)
- Miss Bowers - Miss Stevens - Office stalwarts. (Speaking roles)
Scenes and Settings
Scene 1: Dr. Brooks' Office.
Scene 2: Liza Elliott's Office. The same day.
Scene 3: Dr. Brooks' Office. The next day.
Scene 4: Liza Elliott's Office. Late that afternoon.
Scene 1: Liza Elliott's Office. Late the following afternoon.
Scene 2: Dr. Brooks' Office. Later that evening.
Scene 3: Liza Elliott's Office. A week later.
- Oh Fabulous One in Your Ivory Tower - Liza Elliott's Serenaders
- The World's Inamorata - Liza Elliott, Miss Foster
- One Life to Live - Liza Elliott, Russell Paxton
- Girl of the Moment - Ensemble
- It Looks Like Liza - Entire Company
- Mapleton High Chorale - High School Graduates
- This Is New - Rands Curtis, Liza Elliott
- The Princess of Pure Delight - Liza Elliott, Children
- This Woman at the Altar - Entire Company
- The Greatest Show on Earth - Russell Paxton, Ensemble
- Dance of the Tumblers - Albertina Rasch Dancers
- The Best Years of His Life - Charley Johnston, Rands Curtis
- Tschaikowsky - Russell Paxton, Ensemble
- The Saga of Jenny - Liza Elliott, Jury, Ensemble
- My Ship - Liza Elliott
flute db. piccolo, Reed I (clarinet, alto sax), Reed II (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, baritone sax), Reed III (clarinet, oboe, tenor sax), 3 trumpets, trombone, percussion, piano, organ or harmonium, 2 violins, 2 celli, bass
Various Original cast recordings: