Street Scene – Original Broadway Cast 1949
Commentary by KURT WEILL, 1947 Among all the theatrical works I have written, operas, operettas, musical plays, musical comedies, ballets, pageants – about twenty-five altogether – Street Scene occupies a niche of its own. It means to me the fulfillment of two dreams which I have dreamed during the last twenty years and which have become a sort of center around which all my thinking and planning revolved. Dream No. 1: Ever since I made up my mind, at the age of nineteen, that my special field of activity would be the theater, I have tried continuously to solve, in my own way, the form-problems of the musical theater, and through the years I have approached these problems from all different angles. One of the first decisions I made was to get the leading dramatists of our time interested in the problems of the musical theater. The list of my collaborators reads like a good selection of contemporary playwrights of different countries: George Kaiser and Bert Brecht in Germany, Jacques Deval in France, Franz Werfel, Paul Green, Maxwell Anderson, Moss Hart and Elmer Rice in America. The obvious approach to the musical theater for a young composer in the early 20s was, of course, grand opera. So I wrote three operatic works in short intervals and saw them produced in German opera-houses between 1926 and 1928. But soon I discovered that the special requirements of the opera-house, its performers and its audiences, forced me to sacrifice certain elements of the modern theater, and it was at that time that I began to dream of a special brand of musical theater which would completely integrate drama and music, spoken word, song and movement. All the theatrical works I have written since then have been stepping stones in this direction; in each of them I tried out certain elements of the musical theater which I was dreaming about. In The Threepenny Opera, which was my first musical play, we deliberately stopped the action during the songs which were written to illustrate the “philosophy,” the inner meaning of the play. Mahagonny was a sort of “dramatic review,” using elements of the theater from slapstick to opera. The Silver Lake was a serious musical which mixed realism and fantasy and used actors together with a singing chorus and a symphonic orchestra. But not until fifteen years later, not until Street Scene, did I achieve a real blending of drama and music, in which the singing continues naturally where the speaking stops and the spoken word as well as the dramatic action are embedded in overall musical structure. Dream No. 2: When I arrived in this country, in 1935, another dream began to get hold of me – the dream of an American opera. My first Broadway show, Johnny Johnson, was still a continuation of the formula which I had tried out in Europe. But through this show, I learned a great deal about Broadway and its audience. I discovered that a vast, unexploited field lay between grand opera and musical comedy, although the ground was already well prepared. I discovered that there was a highly receptive audience with great sensitivity for music and a great capacity for emotions. I discovered also that there was a rich collection of young singers with great acting talent, full of ambition and eager to work, but frustrated by the lack of outlets for their talents. The more I studied this situation, the more I became convinced of the possibility to develop out of this material a musical theater which could eventually grow into something like an American opera. But at the same time I made up my mind that such development could only take place on Broadway, because Broadway represents the living theater in this country, and an American opera, as I imagined it, should be a part of the living theater. It should, like the products of other opera-civilizations, appeal to large parts of the audience. It should have all the necessary ingredients of a “good show.” In the different Broadway shows which I wrote during the following years, I tried to make the music an integral part of the plays; especially in Lady in the Dark, with its three little one-act operas, I continued the story in musical fantasies when the realistic story stopped. In the meantime, the whole Broadway scene began to change in the same direction. Porgy and Bess became a big popular success; Carousel and Carmen Jones introduced operatic elements, and the American public became more and more opera-conscious. When I finally decided that the time was ripe for a real Broadway opera, I found Elmer Rice’s famous play, with its gripping story and its richness of characters, a perfect vehicle. The form I decided on as the best possible realization of an American opera-form was exactly that complete integration of drama and music which I had attempted in my earlier works. And that’s how Street Scene became to me the fulfillment of two dreams. The recording of the music from Street Scene offered a problem. The integration of music and drama has been carried so far in the case of Street Scene that the work has been regarded as an “operatic” event ever since it opened in New York, because “opera” is the form of theater in which the dramatic action is expressed through music, and the emotional power of the original play is heightened and intensified through the use of singing voices and orchestra. Therefore, if we wanted to set down on discs the real values of the Street Scene score, we had to keep in mind that only some of the people who will listen to this record will have seen the show, while many others will have to rely on this recording to find out what sort of musical treatment I have given to Elmer Rice’s famous play. That’s why I was very happy when Goddard Lieberson, [then] Vice-President of Columbia Records, suggested a comprehensive recording. This made it possible to show the variety of musical forms which I have used in this score, to include songs, arias, duets, ensembles, orchestral interludes and even dialogue which, in Street Scene, takes the place of recitative in the classic opera. It also allowed me to work out a sort of continuity so that, in listening to this recorded performance, we can follow the action and the emotional up-and-down of this play about life in a street of New York. We see, in the beginning, the women who live in the house, sitting on the steps, complaining about the heat (“Ain’t It Awful, the Heat”), talking to the janitor who comes up from the cellar singing his blues song (“I Got a Marble and a Star”), gossiping about Mrs. Maurrant’s love life (“Gossip”) and making fun of young Buchanan whose wife is having a baby (“When a Woman Has a Baby”). Then we hear Mrs. Maurrant’s aria (“Somehow I Never Could Believe”), expressing her troubled mind and her secret desires; the song of the young girls coming home from the graduation exercises (“Wrapped in a Ribbon and Tied in a Bow”); Sam Kaplan’s song of adolescent melancholy (“Lonely House”); then Rose Maurrant’s scene with her “boss,” Mr. Easter, who is trying to lure her into a different sort of life (“Wouldn’t You Like to Be on Broadway?”); Rose’s decision to live her own kind of life (“What Good Would the Moon Be?”) and the scene of young love between Rose and Sam, dreaming of lilac bushes and happiness (“Remember That I Care”). The second act opens with the morning music, the awakening of the house and the “Children’s Game”; and goes on to Mrs. Maurrant’s touching song to her little son (“A Boy Like You”); to a passionate duet of the two lovers, Sam and Rose, who have decided to take life in their own hands (“We’ll Go Away Together”). In the last scene we see the two nursemaids trying to sing the babies to sleep, while at the same time gossiping about their parents (“Lullaby”); we see Rose meeting for the last time her father who has killed his wife and is being taken away by the police (“I Loved Her Too”); and finally Rose saying goodbye to the one she loves (“Farewell Duet”). Of course, some important parts of the score, like the Ice-Cream Septet and the Trio in the second act, had to be omitted, but we offer enough material to give a complete impression of the Street Scene score and its blending with the action of the play.
– Kurt Weill, 1947
Abraham Kaplan: Irving Kaufman Greta Fiorentino: Marie Leidal (sub for Helen Arden) Carl Olsen: Wilson Smith Emma Jones: Hope Emerson Olga Olsen: Ellen Repp Shirley Kaplan: Norma Chambers Henry Davis: Creighton Thompson Willie Maurrant: Peter Griffith Anna Maurrant: Polyna Stoska Sam Kaplan: Brian Sullivan Daniel Buchanan: Remo Lota Fred Maurrant: Norman Cordon George Jones: David E. Thomas Steve Sankey: Lauren Gilbert Lippo Fiorentino: Sydney Rainer Jennie Hildebrand: Beverly Janis Second Graduate: Zosia Gruchala Third Graduate: Marion Covey Mary Hildbrand: Juliana Gallagher Charles Hildebrand: Bennett Burrill Laura Hildebrand: Ellen Lane Grace Davis: Helen Ferguson First Policeman: Ernest Taylor: Rose Maurrant: Anne Jeffreys Harry Easter: Don Saxon Mae Jones: Sheila Bond Dick McGann: Danny Daniels Vincent Jones: Robert Pierson Dr. John Wilson: Edwin G. O’Connor Officer Henry Murphy: Norman Thomson A Milkman: Russell George A Music Pupil: Joyce Carrol City Marshall James Henry: Randolph Symonette Fred Cullen: Paul Lily An Old Clothes Man: Edward Reichert An Intern: Roy Munsell An Ambulance Driver: John Sweet First Nursemaid: Peggy Turnley Second Nursemaid: Eileen Carleen Husband: Joseph E. Scandur Wife: Bette Van Passersby, Neighbors, Children, etc.: Aza Bard, Diana Donne, Juanita Hall, Marie Leidal, Biruta Ramoska, Marcella Uhl, Larry Baker, Tom Barragan, Mel Bartell, Victor Clarke, Bobby Horn, Wilson Woodbeck