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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Street Scene
Young Vic Theatre September 2011

The opportunity to see a rarely-performed American classic is the big draw here, with this production's many merits outweighing its few flaws. 

For a brief period in the 1940s the line between grand opera and Broadway musical blurred, with serious composers such as Marc Blitzstein and Gian Carlo Menotti reaching into the pop music idiom to produce works they hoped would be more truly American than traditional operas. 

This 1947 adaptation of Elmer Rice's 1929 play by Kurt Weill (music) and Langston Hughes (lyrics) is one of the most successful of those crossovers.

Rice's play is an almost plotless look at a couple of days in the life of a New York City apartment building, with the summer heat bringing everyone to their open windows or the front steps, where they chat and gossip. 

One unhappy wife is having an affair which her husband will discover with tragic results, one young couple don't have the means to run off together, one family is being evicted. There will be one birth and a couple of deaths, someone will move out and someone else will move in, and life will go on for the rest. 

Weill's music runs a full gamut from high opera, as in the lovers' 'Lilac Bush' duet or the second act trio of husband, wife and daughter, through the lush Richard Rodgers-ish melodies of the unhappy wife's first act soliloquy (whose dramatic structure may owe something to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel), to light-hearted numbers like 'Ice Cream' and 'Moonfaced' and the hit parade pop of 'Ribbon Tied With a Bow' and 'What Good Would The Moon Be'. Almost all of them work in their respective genres, and the clashes in style are very few. 

The cast of this Young Vic/Opera Group production are all opera singers, and they are all guilty to some extent of the opera singer's bad habit of poor enunciation, trilling or singing open vowels so that the words themselves are lost. 

Everyone slips into this failing from time to time, and some entire sequences, like the opening chorus of housewives, are almost totally unintelligible.

For that the blame must fall on director John Fulljames and musical directors Keith Lockhart and Tim Murray for not being firmer with their singers and forcing them to enunciate as other moments in the show demonstrate that they can. 

Singing and acting honours go to Elena Ferrari as the unfaithful wife, whose first act soliloquy rightly stops the show, to Susanna Hurrell and Paul Curievici as the starcrossed lovers, and to Charlotte Page as the most hypocritically judgemental of the gossips.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Street Scene - Young Vic 2011

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