Theatre Review – 'Street Scene'

Posted by Alexander Hay

Kurt Weill's American tragic opera briefly returns to the stage at the Old Vic, as a long hot summer in 1947 brings death and despair to a poor, run-down New York neighbourhood

It's a fair cop in 'Street Scene'Mention the name Kurt Weill and you would be forgiven for immediately thinking of The Three Penny Opera and in particular the legendary number Mac the Knife. But now one of his less well known works, Street Scene, is back for a short run at the Young Vic Theatre after winning the 2008 Evening Standard Award for Best Musical. His score this time features an irresistible blend of show tunes, operatic arias, jazz, the blues and spirituals.

The setting is a brownstone tenement on new York‘s Lower East Side during two sweltering summer days in 1947. Amid the perspiration and poverty, dustbins and graffiti, neighbourliness thrives fuelled by endless gossip, presented us with several loosely connected sketches of immigrant life.

As these merge, the story focuses on the Marrant family. Frank, a stagehand is a hard man and a drinker, stern with his family. Anna, his long suffering wife yearns for affection and a little happiness. She finds what she needs in Sankey, the collector for the milk company. Rose, their daughter is in love with Sam Kaplan, a bespectacled Jewish law student who finds in his books an escape from the squalor of his environment, and is even willing to give up a promising career to take Rose to a better place.

Among their neighbours on the block is Laura Hilderbrand, who, abandoned by her husband and, unable to pay the rent, is to be evicted. When the threat of violence turns to reality, the tragedy that ensues shatters everyone’s lives forever.

Adapted from Elmer Rice's 1929 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, with lyrics by Langston Hughes, this emotionally affecting show is nevertheless weakened by the episodic structure of the storytelling, and the effusive playing by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Keith Lockhart and a total of 80 singers who, although impressive, tend to drown at times the spoken dialogue.

But director John Fulljames draws convincing performances from his committed cast, most notably Elena Ferrari, warm and engaging, as Anna; Geoffrey Dolton as her brutal husband, Frank; Susanna Hurrell, piquant as their daughter Rose, and her nerdy neighbour Sam, strongly sung and acted by Paul Curievia.

And let’s not forget Weill’s striking score which so imaginatively mixes different genres of music into a truly original whole.

Plays until Saturday, then tours to the Anvil Basingstoke October 4, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, October 7–8, the Riverfront Newport October 11–12, and Hull Truck Theatre, Hull October 14 -15.

Young Vic box office: 0207 922 2922

Press: 0207 922 2800

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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