The stage of Kodak Hall has been transformed into a city apartment complex, complete with clothes line, fire hydrant, and a single, lonely lamppost; the instrumentalists have taken up residence under the stage, in the pit; backstage has been cleared of the usual instrumental cases and stands to make room for props and actors. Tonight is opening night of Eastman Opera Theater’s production of Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene.”
The posters advertise: “A great Broadway musical and a great opera in one!” Indeed, this work is a fusion of both worlds. As the title suggests, “Street Scene” depicts the comings and goings of a community that develops around the block of apartment building 346. In this respect, it is a precursor to the more recent Broadway musical “In the Heights,” which examines the relationships of a community of people living together on one small block of New York City. “Street Scene” focuses on the Maurrant family: Mr. Mauraant, an alcoholic and abusive husband, Mrs. Maurrant, an unfaithful and abused wife, and Rose, their daughter who is searching desparately for a way out.
“Street Scene” opened on Broadway in January 1947, winning a Tony award for Best Score. Songs like “Wouldn’t You Like to be on Broadway?” and “Moon Faced Starry Eyed” give the work a musical feel. In fact, the latter features a tap sequence reminiscent of scenes from “Guys and Dolls” and “Singing in the Rain.” However, it is in no way a conventional Broadway musical because it draws from operatic traditions as well, including arias and songs that resemble recitative, both typical of opera.
The show also includes an unusually large cast, with multiple leads and a considerable ensemble. The families living in the building each represent a different immigrant group. The set is built to give each principle role a window in the building. All of the action plays out in front of the building so that the neighbors watching from the windows are audience members to the scenes being played out on the streets below, just like the ticket-buying theater goers. Looking at this in retrospect, the paying audience members become participants in the story as just another gaggle of gawking neighbors.
Eastman’s production features two separate casts to showcase the many talents of the vocalists, with one performing Thursday and Saturday and the other performing Friday and Sunday. In addition to Eastman students, the cast includes children recruited from local elementary schools and the director’s own dog. The performers have been putting in long hours for weeks, working first offstage, familiarizing themselves with the set, working with the orchestra, and “teching” the show. Their hard work has culminated in a highly professional show, conveying a realistic and bittersweet glimpse into the struggles of average people who one would pass on the streets.
“Street Scene” will debut at Kodak Hall on Thursday, April 4 and run until Sunday, April 7.
McAuliffe is a member of the class of 2014.