Street Scene

Published September 21, 2011

Kurt Weill considered Street Scene to be his masterpiece. Last night at the press night of the Young Vic’s revival, with the BBC Concert Orchestra on stage and singers from The Opera Group sparking a Mexican wave of goose bumps around the audience, it was easy to see why.

Weill’s production contains everything from soaring opera solos to Gershwin-style swing numbers, with sizzling, razzle dazzle dance numbers coming moments after melancholic arias and powerful romantic duets. There’s love, death, abusive husbands and unfulfilled dreams, all fuelling the show’s life source, gossip.

The action takes place over the course of two days in a 1940s New York tenement during a heat wave. While its hard in an ever increasingly autumnal London to feel any sympathy for the group as they sing Ain’t It Awful, The Heat?, the actors do a wonderful job of evoking the sweat-drenched setting as they take to the minimalist Young Vic stage, flapping newspapers and mopping brows until you almost begin to feel beads of sweat settling on your own temples.

Behind the doors of the brownstone residence lie numerous stories. The young enthusiastic Mr Buchanan awaits the imminent birth of his first child, cramped up in the Joneses family’s flat is a tearaway sex-pot daughter, a bully of a son and a busy body mother, while above them a middle-age Italian couple make everyone green with envy with their youthful lust.

At the heart of the story are the Maurrants family. While father Frank is drinking his days away, his long-suffering wife Anna finds affection elsewhere and daughter Rose can’t make up her mind whether to put her principles aside to secure herself a job on Broadway or to marry the bookish, anxiety-ridden Sam living next door.

Pinpointing the star of the show would be near impossible. You could undeniably give the full orchestra, which adds a soaring gravitas to the production, this accolade, but equally the many young children who run in and out of the action add a movement to the piece that breaths life into every song. Similarly, while Charlotte Page is flawless as a noisy, judgemental housewife, Susanna Hurrell adds a Judy Garland-esque, wide-eyed innocence as the confused Rose.

What is undeniable, however, is the fact that while Street Scene may sit somewhere between an opera and a musical, it evokes all the warmth of watching an old film on a cosy Sunday afternoon.

CM

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