In Ndotsheni, South Africa in the 1940s ("The Hills of Ixopo"), Rev. Stephen Kumalo, a black Anglican priest, has not heard from his son Absalom since he left to look for work in Johannesburg a year earlier. Though untroubled at heart ("Thousands of Miles"), he decides to search for Absalom there. At the railroad station ("Train to Johannesburg"), he is greeted by Arthur Jarvis, a white lawyer who is a benefactor of his church, though Arthur's father James, a wealthy planter, frowns upon any association between the races.
In Johannesburg, Stephen takes charge of his sister Gertrude's illegitimate son Alex. His brother John, a tobacconist and Zulu community organizer, tells him Absalom is no longer working in the mines. Stephen goes all over Soweto looking for Absalom ("The Search") by day, renting a hovel in Shantytown by night. He learns Absalom has served jail time but is on parole living with his pregnant girlfriend Irina. At night in his rented hut, Stephen promises little Alex that he will soon take him to Ndotsheni where he will live more comfortably ("The Little Gray House").
Absalom, his cousin Matthew (John's son), and their friend Johannes party at a dive in Shantytown with their girlfriends ("Who'll Buy"). To raise money to support his expected child, Absalom joins a burglary plot with the other two; there seems to be little risk, because Johannes knows the house well. Still, the other two insist that Absalom bring a gun. Irina tries to dissuade him, to no avail. Later Rev. Kumalo and a parole officer find Irina at her hut in Shantytown but she tells them she doesnít know where Absalom is. Stephen disdains her loose morals but makes an alliance with her to find Absalom and keep him out of further legal jeopardy ("Trouble Man").
Absalom, Matthew, and Johannes, faces concealed, break into the home late at night. But a servant there recognizes Johannes's voice; then the homeowner--Arthur Jarvis, Stephen's patron--unexpectedly appears. Absalom fires his gun in panic and kills him. The three men flee ("Murder in Parkwold"). Later, the parole officer visits the home and tells Arthur's grieving father James that the police have arrested Johannes; outside in the street both the black and white communities are in turmoil ("Fear!"). The parole officer conducts Stephen to Absalom's jail cell, thus finally reuniting father and son. Stephen doesn't believe Absalom could be guilty of the crime, but Absalom confesses. Back in his Shantytown hut, Stephen struggles to explain all the bad news in a letter to his wife back in Ndotsheni. He prays to Tixo (God) fervently, but finds his bedrock faith shaken ("Lost in the Stars").
The Chorus sings of "The Wild Justice" that seems to thwart the impulses of civility.
John Kumalo tells Stephen a good lawyer can get all three men off, but only if they conform their alibis. However, Absalom wants to "go straight" to make it up to his father. Stephen is anguished by this dilemma ("O Tixo, Tixo, Help Me!"). He decides to try to plead for mercy with the dead man's father, James Jarvis. He tells him that Absalom has confessed and that he fired his gun accidentally. Could Jarvis intervene so Absalom would receive a life sentence instead of death? Jarvis sternly refuses.
Meanwhile, in her long absence from Absalom, Irina's affection for him has only deepened, despite the trouble he's brought her ("Stay Well"). She tells Stephen that she repents of her ways and will wait for Absalom no matter how long he's in prison.
At the murder trial Johannes and Matthew both lie, offering shaky alibis. Absalom implicates the two of them and admits his own guilt, but says the gun was only meant to frighten the servant of the house. Yet the judge acquits Matthew and Johannes and sentences Absalom to death. As the Chorus keens ("Cry, the Beloved Country"), Stephen marries Absalom and Irina in the prison cell.
Stephen returns home to Ndotsheni with Irina and Alex to wait out the judicial appeal. One day little Alex is overheard singing ("Big Mole") by young Edward Jarvis. James Jarvis arrives to pick up his grandson and chides him for talking to Alex. Since the murder James's wife has also died and now he is left to take care of his orphaned grandson alone. But before they leave he overhears Stephen's voice from the pulpit inside his church and he decides to listen. Stephen is telling his congregation he must resign his pastorate, not only because they have lost their benefactor, not only because his own son has killed, but because Stephen has lost his own faith. His parishioners protest but resign themselves to the transience of life ("Bird of Passage").
The appeals have failed and the execution looms. At dawn Stephen, his wife Grace, and Irina await the dreaded hour when Absalom will be hanged far away in Pretoria ("Four O'Clock"). Suddenly James Jarvis knocks on the door. He has had a profound conversion. He tells Stephen he will step in for everything his son did to support Stephen's church and beseeches Stephen to stay on. Moreover, "I shall come and worship in your church if I wish to worship . . . Edward will come tomorrow to see Alex. He wants to come and play."
Stephen agrees to stay on. The clock strikes four. Jarvis puts his arm around Stephen. They have become comrades in both grief and hope ("Thousands of Miles" reprise).© The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music
Cast Size: Medium (5-21) • Large (14+). Vocal Demands: Moderate • Challenging. Dance Requirements: Some Dancing Required • Minimal. Good For: College/University • Amateur/Community • Professional Theatre • Religious Organization.
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January 01, 1970
October 30, 1949
July 01, 1950
— Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal, 2012
— Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 2012
“Beautifully conceived, brilliant in its theatrical effects ...and, without ever being maudlin, is so affecting in its emotional content that not only was the audience at the performance’s end in tears, so were the cast members....A great theatrical experience.”— William Burnett, OperaWarhorses.com, 2012
"A masterpiece of articulate eloquence and solid structure that sidesteps obvious clichés.... The point of the show isn't to question individual faults, but how apartheid poisoned people. And the point of this revival is the music--evocative, lush and downright brilliant.... The repeated use of choral singing creates haunting effects, and Weill's original orchestrations alone are so intricate that you'd need a repeat visit to fully appreciate them... Lost in the Stars may have a somber message, but when this kind of magic happens onstage, all feels right with the world--of theater, at least.— Elizabeth Vincentell, New York Post, 2011
"Contains some of [Weill's] most stirring and original work . . . . His music captures native dignity, the bustle of city life, and the plangent feelings of life under assault . . . . Anderson's lyrics, alternately gritty and poetic evocations of individual and collective souls, are ideal complements . . . . A masterful work that, even 61 years after its debut, cries out to be heard."— Matthew Murray, Talkin' Broadway, 2011
"Packed with gorgeous and emotional musical moments . . . . [Weill's] most dramatically rich work. . . . Anderson's book and lyrics, in the style of musical dramas of the day, is filled with heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity and warm, simple poetry."— Michael Dale, Broadway World, 2011
"The shattering story and seductive Weill score had me spellbound."
"Lost in the Stars proves to be a fresh and compelling piece of work. Weill's richly expansive score is one of the best he ever wrote for Broadway, while Maxwell Anderson's parable-like text is very effective.”— Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal, 2009
"Weill's music lifts it onto the exalted plane of spiritual experience. Instead of the manufactured uplift of modern musicals, we are offered an overwhelming moral statement about our common humanity."— Michael Billington, The Guardian, 1991
"The score ranges from some sensuous ballads to a few lighthearted songs to a number of pieces so soaring, so powerful they seem like hymns . . . . A reminder of what great musical theater is."— Howard Kissel, Daily News, 1988
"The work remains remarkably moving. Paton's anguished vision of his country's divisions still strikes deep and Weill's score still soars.— Walter Goodman, New York Times, 1988
"Kurt Weill was the greatest composer ever to write for Broadway. Lost in the Stars is very moving . . . with a score of magisterial sweep. A distinguished and thrilling piece of musical theater."
"Kurt Weill was the greatest composer of theater songs of the century . . . . I am moved closer to tears by the title song of Lost in the Stars than by any other single song created for the American stage."— Alan Rich, New York Magazine, 1972
"Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country is one of the great moral acts in literature. In his adaptation Anderson caught much of its power, anguish and dignity, and Weill's music is a treasure of our lyric theater . . . the best show of the Broadway season."— Jack Kroll, Newsweek, 1972
"A masterwork. Its musical score by Kurt Weill, making generous use of full choruses, is powerful and exciting . . . . Lost in the Stars is a synthesis of song and drama such as you are not likely to have encountered before . . . . A theatrical event of major importance."— John Hobart, San Francisco Chronicle, 1950
"Triumphant and deeply moving . . . theater at its best."
"A work of truth, beauty and immense artistry. . . . a triumphant piece of theater."
Table of Contents
Provided by The Kurt Weill Foundation
Twelve bars of passionate outcry played by a chamber orchestra, a song leader intoning Alan Paton's line, "There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills," a Greek chorus of voices mournfully echoing the minor pentatonic scale of the melody--just the first minute of music in Lost in the Stars proclaims a Broadway musical unlike any other. In the late nineteenth century, when Reginald DeKoven's operettas ruled Broadway, musical numbers were predominantly choral. Then from Victor Herbert onward to Kern, Gershwin, and Porter, solo and duet songs dominated book musicals, with full ensemble writing saved for special moments (e.g., "Make Our Garden Grow" in Candide). Two experimental shows in the 1940s--Marc Blitzstein's 1941 No for an Answer and Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1947 Allegro--ventured to reintroduce the full chorus as a recurring device. But No for an Answer's vocal ensembles are largely unison writing, and Allegro's seem collegiate compared with Weill's. In no other musical in the Broadway literature does the chorus provide so much momentum, or interact so seamlessly with the parallel score of solo songs, as in Lost in the Stars.
Weill created a prototype of the polystylism of composers of the late 20th and early 21st century, and Lost in the Stars is, perhaps even more than Street Scene, his most polystylistic work. It contains operatic arias with recitative ("O Tixo, Tixo, Help Me!"), chorales (the prelude to "The Little Gray House," "Bird of Passage"), blues ("Trouble Man"), folk music influences ("Train to Johannesburg"), Tin Pan Alley pop tunes ("Lost in the Stars"), even jitterbug (the coda to "Who'll Buy"). But there is more to it than merely cataloguing different types of songs, for music is deployed throughout the show in multiple--and sometimes revelatory--ways. The tone is naturalistic, but the Greek chorus is a principal player, commenting on the action from a perspective unavailable to the characters. Some of the principals sing, some do not. (The chorus itself is a principal player.) There are underscored dialogue sections, and there are intense passages of dialogue unadorned by music. Seen in the theatre, the work plays not as a musical or opera so much as an intense dramatic play enhanced by music, poetry, and movement.
In its distinctive use of heightened poetic language, Lost in the Stars is also one of the most peculiarly literary musical plays ever staged on Broadway. Two voices, two literary sensibilities--Alan Paton and Maxwell Anderson--inform its text, thanks to Weill's, Anderson's, and Paton's agreement that Anderson should incorporate some passages from Paton's novel directly into his lyrics. Something similar happened with Porgy and Bess, to which Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward both contributed lyrics, but it's much more difficult to tell their efforts apart than to distinguish, say, the complex metonymies of Anderson's "The Wild Justice" from the scriptural evocation of Paton's "Who can enjoy the land? Who can enjoy the seventy years?" in "Fear." And Weill's chant-like vocal settings of the lyrical prose passages from Paton's novel render their free, unmetered cadences with a splendid indifference to Broadway convention, belying his reputation in some Broadway quarters as an approval-seeker.
The scoring includes no violins, an interesting choice for a piece with so many moments of "heart-string" sentimentalism. The muted quality of Weill's orchestration--there are few passages in high treble registers in any instrument, and apart from the accordion in "Johannesburg" almost no instrumental licks that call attention away from the actors and singers--was clearly a choice, not only to underline the "tragedy" in "musical tragedy" but to compel the audience to attend to the serious drama onstage. The doleful A minor pentatonic "Ixopo" gamut, and its sunny antipode, the C major pentatonic "Thousands of Miles" gamut, are woven leitmotivically throughout the score, as is the railroad-rhythm motif of the latter (which rhythm must have been noted by composer Frederick Loewe, for he copied it in "They Call the Wind Maria" from Paint Your Wagon).
Weill avoided using African music when he composed Lost in the Stars, as Richard Rodgers rejected the Siamese music Bernard Herrmann lent him for The King and I. But whereas "March of the Siamese Children" still comes across as chinoiserie, Lost in the Stars never sounds faux African. Despite the differing provenance of parts of its score (the title song, "The Little Gray House," and earlier versions of "Trouble Man" and "Stay Well" were all written in 1939 for the abortive Anderson-Weill collaboration Ulysses Africanus), in execution it somehow sounds all of a piece. Always the practical theater man, Weill wrote "O Tixo, Tixo, Help Me!" for Todd Duncan only after he was signed for the role and the bulk of the score was already finished, and the startling 11 o'clock number "Big Mole" expressly for young Herbert Coleman (the Ethel Merman of boy sopranos). The 1949 production's white-hot intensity, owing much to director Rouben Mamoulian, is captured on the original cast album, possibly the least canned, most spontaneous OC album ever recorded. Listening to it one feels as if one were witnessing the actual live performance in the theater.
The composer, who achieved fame in his twenties etching Brecht's sarcasm with musical acid, capped his career with arguably his most un-Brechtian, heart-on-sleeve work. Here and there perhaps it is almost too sentimental: Anderson originally placed the title song at the end of the show, but the finale was later changed to a tear-jerking Hollywood-style final reprise of "Thousands of Miles." (Commented Agnes de Mille: "Beethoven would have been hard-pressed and Kurt delivered a dear little sentimental ditty.") Nevertheless the score shows a sincerity and fearlessness of emotional expression that lifts it above such criticisms. Lost in the Stars is not only a fitting end to Weill's career, but it provided his epitaph: a portion of Maxwell Anderson's lyric to "Bird of Passage" (a paraphrase of a quotation from the Venerable Bede) is engraved on the composer's tombstone in Haverstraw, New York.
© The Kurt Weill Foundation
Read the Spring 2008 Kurt Weill Foundation newsletter about LOST IN THE STARS.
Drama Desk Awards1972 — Award for Outstanding Performance, Brock Peters
Tony Awards1973 — 2 nominations
Vocal Range of Characters:
Written By: Maxwell Anderson in a letter to Alan Paton
For years I've wanted to write something which would state the position and perhaps illuminate the tragedy of our own Negroes. Now that I've read your story I think you have said as much as can be said both for your country and ours. My first concern would be to keep as much as possible of the dialogue and the story structure, just as they stand. Your effects are both powerful and delicate. Some of the lyric prose could be lifted out intact and set to music. Kurt Weill is as enthusiastic about the book and about this dramatic method for it as I am.
It would be our task -- as we see it -- to translate into stage form without dulling its edge or losing its poetry this extraordinarily moving tale of lost men clinging to odds and ends of faith in the darkness of our modern earth. For the breaking of the tribe is only a symbol of the breaking of all tribes and all the old ways and beliefs. It's more than a novel, and I think it can be as touching and tragic in the theatre as on the printed page.
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- Orchestration Package (14 Books)
- 1 – FULL SCORE ACT I
- 1 – FULL SCORE ACT II
- 1 – PIANO/ACCORDIAN (Doubles Organ)
- 1 – REED I (Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax)
- 1 – REED II (Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet, Tenor Sax)
- 1 – REED III (Clarinet, Alto Sax, Bass Clarinet)
- 1 – TRUMPET
- 1 – PERCUSSION (see list below)
- 1 – VIOLA I
- 1 – VIOLA II
- 1 – CELLO I
- 1 – CELLO II
- 1 – BASS
- 1 – HARP
- Rehearsal Set (22 Books)
- 20 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- 1 – Logo CD
- 2 – Piano Vocal Scores
- 0 – Digital Logo
- Libretto/Vocal Books 10 pack
- 10 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- LOST IN THE STARS - PRE-PRODUCTION PACKAGE
- 1 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- 1 – Piano Vocal Scores
Singing-dancing ensemble with numerous small roles and children.
LOST IN THE STARS takes place in Ndotsheni and Johannesburg, South Africa in 1949.
Stephen Kumalo's House
John Kumalo's Tobacco Shop
Mrs. M'Kize's House
Stephen's Shantytown Lodging
A dive in Shantytown
Irina's Hut in Shantytown
Kitchen in Arthur Jarvis' Home
Arthur Jarvis' Library
Arthur Jarvis' Doorway