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mcclung, bruce d.

American Dreams: Analyzing Moss Hart, Ira Gershwin, and Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark

Ph.D. Eastman School of Music, 1995
(Bruce.McClung@UC.Edu)

Much was new about Lady in the Dark when it premiered at the Alvin Theatre on 23 January 1941: this "musical play" began without an overture, sought to dramatize the process of psychoanalysis, placed a song at the plot's base, restricted music to three through-composed dream sequences, revolved upon four turntables, and exploited in the decor the new plastics, Merilyn and Lucite. For Moss Hart, Lady in the Dark heralded his creative break with George S. Kaufman; for Ira Gershwin, his return to Broadway after his brother's death; and for Weill, his first Broadway success. The legendary work about an editor of a fashion magazine starred Gertrude Lawrence and launched Danny Kaye's career. Including its two seasons on Broadway, the musical play racked up 777 performances in twelve cities.

Now assumed by some critics to be foolish and pseudo-psychoanalytical, Lady in the Dark actually attempted to portray realistically the psychiatric practices and theories of Hart's therapist, Dr. Lawrence S. Kubie, who promoted the work and even penned its preface under a pseudonym. Although Weill too may have initially plumbed his own psyche for inspiration, he ultimately pursued a longer and more complex route in search of harmonic analogies for Hart's psycho-drama. To mistake superficial features of the score as mere imitations of prevailing Broadway style denies deeper structural connections evinced by the compositional process and the work itself. Lady in the Dark's gender constructions and employment issues are more characteristic of the Depression than of social mores during the Second World War.