- Lady in the Dark, and: The Sound of Music
By staging contemporary America in Germany and in German, the Hannover Staatsoper, like Sam Mendes’s 1993 revival of Cabaret at London’s Donmar Warehouse, achieved a reading of Lady in the Dark that is unlikely, if not impossible, to be conceived in America. Running simultaneously at another European state institution, The Sound of Music at the Salzburger Landestheater reclaimed the Austrian history and heritage appropriated on Broadway in 1959 by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and by doing so, urged Austrians to see past the musical’s tourism value to embrace it as a window onto their own past. While both musicals continue to be produced in the United States, the resources and vision behind these European productions demonstrate how open musicals are to reimagining beyond their original Broadway productions. Such musicals endure not only as a result of their quality, but also because their timeless themes continue to resonate with new generations. New productions foreground classic musicals’ continuing relevance in ways that reverent revivals cannot, and these innovative European productions demonstrated the American genre’s ability to engage audiences beyond Broadway.
While Lady in the Dark revolves around fashion magazine editor Liza Elliott’s inability to choose from among possible magazine covers, and between her career and marriage, the musical’s German-born composer, Kurt Weill, did not hesitate to choose America over Germany. The Hannover Staatsoper program features a quotation from Weill, in which he emphasized the years he composed for the American stage and his status as a US citizen. While this production may be read as a German homecoming for Weill, Lady in the Dark’s essential Americanness only served to highlight the very Germanness of this production.
The musical begins with Liza’s arrival for her first analysis appointment and she is soon reclining on a couch, on a large oriental rug, reflected vertically for the audience by a mirror. In Heinz Hauser’s design, the scene took place within one of Liza’s magazine covers, as if the cover had been sliced open. As scenic elements, the mirror and magazine cover successfully both located the musical’s action at the very heart of Liza’s major concerns, and invited the audience into that action. American pop art inspired the design for Liza’s dreams and worked well to create the necessary contrast between Liza’s [End Page 417] conscious and subconscious. In “One Life to Live,” the mirror reflected the mod men and women of the ensemble as a crowded Columbus Circle in blue. As in the original Broadway production, a body double was used. A red-headed Liza was tossed in the air and with the snap of a lighting effect, a blonde Liza was already back on Dr. Brooks’s couch.
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As played by Winnie Böwe, Liza was an icy blonde in a simple gray suit. When she changed into a little black dress to spend an evening with Hollywood star Randy Curtis and melt the cool façade so criticized by her staff member Charley Johnson, Böwe effectively conveyed Liza’s extreme discomfort. The confidence-boosting costume women around the world gladly wear became a straightjacket for Liza and suggested that leading a post-feminist life can be as much of a struggle as a feminist one.
Actors cast in Lady in the Dark traditionally perform multiple roles in Liza’s dreams and waking life. Daniel Drewes stood out in particular for the contrasting performances he...