Monday, April 29, 2019

Lady in the Dark

What an odd show is Lady in the Dark. Consisting largely of three dream sequences, it lacks forward propulsion and is frequently overdone and/or pointless and/or flabby, particularly in the first act. But it has some gorgeous songs, and the recent MasterVoices version had Victoria Clark in the lead role. She of course nailed the second act's two wonderful numbers, the energetic and funny "Saga of Jennie" and the wistful and lovely "My Ship."

Victoria Clark et al.
Photo: Richard Terminer

The plot, such as it is, is simple: Liza Elliott (Clark), editor of the fashion magazine Allure, is slowly unraveling and doesn't understand why. Her main symptom is her inability to decide between using "the Easter cover" or "the circus cover"; she has lost her certainty at work and in the world. Elliott lives with a married man and is glad of the limitations of the arrangement. She also goes on a few dates with a movie star. And then there is the advertising manager of the magazine, with whom she spars regularly and who seems to get who she really is. But she feels detached and at sea, so she goes into therapy, and her problems are solved in three sessions (if only!) via the dream sequences.

Ted Sperling who directed this Lady in the Dark and who runs MasterVoices, has spoken of wanting to do this show with Clark since they were teenagers. I'm glad for them that their dreams came true. However, the MasterVoices chorus was not well-served, particularly in the large and awkward City Center, where their 100-plus voices were lost amid the murky acoustics. (In contrast, in their most recent show, Night Songs and Love Waltzes, they could be heard loud and clear and were downright thrilling. But that was in Alice Tully Hall, whose acoustics are about a million percent better than City Center's.)

Sperling made at least a couple of other tactical blunders. One was having Clark sing "My Ship" sitting on the floor the stage. He has probably never sat in the balcony of City Center, but I have, so I know how mediocre the sight lines are up there. Even in theatres with good sight lines, many audience members will have trouble seeing someone sitting on the floor! It's a particularly questionable decision considering the importance of the song to the show. Another bad choice was having/allowing David Pittu to play a gay character in a wince-worthily fey performance that would have been cliché/offensive decades ago, let alone in 2019. (On All That Chat, sergius called his performance "gay minstrelsy," which sums it up perfectly.)

I enjoyed "Lady in the Dark" only intermittently. I'm not a huge fan of Ira Gershwin; I hated the choreography; I didn't like the costumes; and I thought the dream sequences were way too long. But many other people loved it, and I suspect this is a classic case of "to each her own."

I look forward to the next time I can actually hear the MasterVoices singers.

Wendy Caster
(1st row, grand tier, press ticket)
Show-Score: 70

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