It’s not easy to figure out how to stage Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. On the one hand it’s a gritty story of violence and poverty and hopelessness. On the other hand it’s got classic Broadway elements; romance, glitzy song and dance numbers etc. It’s also, cleverly and deliberately, musically all over the place with just about every popular American musical style of the period incorporated one way or another.
John Fulljames’ production for Madrid’s Teatro Real, recorded in 2018, takes the approach of treating the base story hyper-realistically. The set is clearly a tenement block. Costumes are period. Acting is “realistic”. And so on. Into this, in Act 1 at least, he inserts an artificial and, at times, super glitzy approach for the numbers. Sometimes this just involves a more stylized approach by the cast but sometimes it’s super glitzy; almost more Hollywood than Broadway. This is particularly apparent in a very glossy version of Moon Faced, Starry Eyed. Act 2 is less glitzy and, of course, even grimmer but there’s still a kind of stage show formalism to the musical numbers and the lullaby scene is just weird. Obviously the glitz and formalism are intended as ironic and I think that largely succeeds.
Musically I think this production comes off well. Conductor Tim Murray appears to have a grip on the genre (or genres). It never drags musically and he can pivot from jazz to show tune to the sort of noir music that accompanies the murder scene with ease. He’s got the orchestra with him and just excellent work from the chorus, especially the children. It’s a huge cast and I think one can only point out a few highlights. There’s Paulo Szot’s really unpleasant Frank Maurrant and a really good singing and acting performance from Mary Bevan as Rose. Patricia Racette makes a sympathetic Anna and it’s one of the better things I’ve seen from her in recent years. Sarah-Marie Maxwell, as the slutty Mae Jones, reveals herself to be a fantastic mover, as well as a very decent singer. Joel Prieto makes a touching Sam Kaplan but, in a cast that is astonishingly adept at various NYC immigrant accents, he doesn’t sound at all Jewish or even very New York. But, overall, this is a very good ensemble cast and the diction coaching must have been really good. I watched without subtitles which I rarely do.
Jérémie Cuvillier’s video direction seems nicely balanced. He captures the big choral numbers nicely and the vignettes are just that and he closes in on them appropriately. On Blu-ray, sound (stereo and DTS-HD-MA) quality is very good. It’s very solid with a notable bass extension. Video quality is also good which is as well because there are plenty of dark scenes, especially in Act 2. There are no extras on the disk but the booklet has a useful essay about Street Scene and its history though not a lot of insight into this production. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Spanish, Korean and Japanese.
All in all I think this production is a perfectly valid way of treating Street Scene and the performances are excellent. It’s also the only video recording of the piece currently available. I don’t think that Street Scene will ever supplant Weill’s earlier German works in my affections but that’s largely a question of personal aesthetics and no reason not to explore this recording.