The Kennedy Center

Song Selections

About the Work

Kurt Weill Composer: Kurt Weill
© Richard Freed

Lady in the Dark opened at the Alvin Theatre on January 21, 1941, and ran for 192 performances before going on tour and then returning to New York; it was Kurt Weill's greatest Broadway success. The book by Moss Hart and the lyrics by Ira Gershwin (whose collaboration with his brother had been ended by George's death in 1937) tell of Liza Elliott (a role originated by Gertrude Lawrence), the successful editor of a glossy fashion magazine, who is undecided which of three suitors to choose as a husband. She consults her psychiatrist for advice, and discloses her thoughts in four dream-like sequences (Glamour, Wedding, Circus and Childhood), for which Weill provided almost continuous music. Liza's dream of glamour is summarized in the song One Life to Live.

Knickerbocker Holiday opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on October 19, 1938 -- it was Kurt Weill's first Broadway hit. Maxwell Anderson, then at the height of his success as a playwright, based his book on Father Knickerbocker's History of New York, Washington Irving's droll recounting of the early Dutch days in the city, but filled it with wickedly satirical contemporary jabs at Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. A tender moment in the show is provided by It Never Was You, sung in Act I by a young New Amsterdamer longing for her sweetheart.

S. J. Perelman, the humorist and scriptwriter for the Marx Brothers comedies, based his book for the 1943 musical One Touch of Venus on an 1890s novel by British author Thomas Anstye Guthrie about Rodney, a young barber who slips the wedding ring he has just bought for his fiancée onto the finger of a statue of Venus at a museum and brings the ancient goddess of love to life. Venus pursues the barber and seduces him in a hotel room, summarily ending Rodney's engagement. Venus is then snatched from the modern world by a messenger from the gods on Olympus, but a real-life girl in her exact image appears at the final curtain. Weill, Perelman and lyricist Ogden Nash updated the story to New York City and emphasized its earthy elements to such an extent that Marlene Dietrich, first choice for the role of Venus, refused the part, thus allowing Mary Martin to rocket to stardom in the show. In addition to the show's hit number, the seductive rumba Speak Low, One Touch of Venus also featured I'm a Stranger Here Myself, in which the goddess of love starts to work her wiles on the naive Rodney.