Stars shine but static Encores! is lost
"Lost in the Stars" is a stately, nobly intentioned, peculiar mess of a musical from 1950. Encores!, which generally focuses its weekend archaeological digs on semi-staged concert revivals of audience-friendly musical comedies, reaches into somewhat deeper material with this passionate reinstatement of an uncommonly serious, rarely performed piece of American musical theater's past.
And if that sounds too much like cultural medicine, so be it. "Lost in the Stars," which Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson adapted from Alan Paton's anti-apartheid novel, "Cry, the Beloved Country," cannot work today for a variety of reasons. To an audience raised on the irresistible sounds of South Africa, the missing authenticity is as jarring as it is understandable.
At least as disorienting is the doggedly, sometimes hilariously conscientious juxtaposition of opera and Broadway musical styles in this drama about stark racial injustice and sentimental reconciliation. Unlike "Knickerbocker Holiday," the breezy 1938 Weill-Anderson musical-comedy satire heard in concert at Lincoln Center last week, this one works hard to meld operatic choruses and arias with Weill's own astringently orchestrated harmonies and popular music that, more than once, sound a lot like cowboy songs.
Director Gary Griffin ("The Color Purple") honors the static nature of the show - rumbling choruses on rough-wooden risers and a leader (Quentin Earl Darrington) in a long, white robe. The individuality comes from the excellent cast, including Chuck Cooper as the black country minister and Sharon Washington as his worried wife. Their precious son (Daniel Breaker) has turned fatally to crime in the city to make a better life for himself and his pregnant love (Sherry Boone).
Boone has two wrenching solos, "Trouble Man" and "Stay Well," full of harsh, angular vocal lines and driving rhythms. Young Jeremy Gumbs, sensational as the child in "Scottsboro Boys," has another star-making turn in an extraneous but lovely novelty song about a tractor toy. Daniel Gerroll makes the bigot's abrupt change of heart seem almost believable.
And Patina Miller prowls admirably around the show's detour into shantytown for an erotic number about exotic fruit. But the scene feels dragged in to wake up what Broadway used to called the tired-businessman audience.