a stroll down broadway
In “A Stroll Down Broadway,” the Naperville Chorus (Jeordano Martinez, director) and acclaimed Chicago-area soloists Kimberly Jones, soprano, and Evan Bravos, baritone, were to have joined the DSO on May 15 and 16 for an unforgettable Broadway journey. As our 2020-21 season finale, the planned program was centered around popular Broadway shows that focused on social issues particularly important in our current times: questions of race, gender, immigration, cultural appropriation, and historical perspective.
As a reminder, all season and family concerts have been canceled due to COVID-19. However, if you would like a sneak peek at the virtual concert experiences that will be created this year, here is a copy of our season brochure.
Please stay safe and we look forward to welcoming you back to Wentz Concert Hall soon!
Porgy and Bess
George Gershwin, one of the most significant American composers of the 20th century, was born in Brooklyn in 1898 as the second son of Russian immigrants. In addition to classical compositions such as Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin composed jazz, opera, and popular songs for stage and screen, many of which are now widely known. He began his career as a song plugger in New York’s Tin Pan Alley, where he discovered jazz, but he soon started composing Broadway theater works in collaboration with his brother Ira. What set Gershwin apart was his ability to manipulate rhythms and tonality into his own unique voice, moving jazz into the mainstream of popular song. Although he seldom made grand statements about his music, Gershwin believed that “true music must reflect the thought and aspirations of the people and time. My people are Americans. My time is today.”
Following such successes as Rhapsody in Blue (1924), An American in Paris (1928), and I Got Rhythm (1930), Gershwin read DuBose Heyward’s novel of the South Carolina Gullah culture, Porgy, and immediately recognized it as a perfect vehicle for a “folk opera” utilizing blues and jazz idioms. He spent the summer of 1934 with Heyward on Folly Island in South Carolina gathering inspiration to begin work on Porgy and Bess, which he co-wrote with his brother Ira and Heyward. Sadly, Gershwin died in 1937, two years after the opera’s debut.
Porgy and Bess is considered an American classic, even if critics could not quite figure out how to evaluate it – or even decide whether it was opera or simply an ambitious Broadway musical. Theater historian Robert Kimball wrote, “It crossed barriers… The work has sort of always been outside category.” The history of Porgy and Bess is also a complicated one. On the one hand, the opera is a celebration of African American culture. On the other hand, the primary agents of its creation were white. The representation of African Americans in Porgy has been both praised and criticized by people of all colors as being a collection of stereotypes.
The libretto of Porgy and Bess tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black street beggar living in Catfish Row, a fictitious large black tenement on Cabbage Row (on the waterfront in Charleston) in the 1920s. It deals with Porgy’s attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin’ Life, her drug dealer. It was adapted from Dorothy and DuBose Heyward’s play Porgy, which was itself an adaptation of DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel of the same name. It was first performed in Boston in 1935 before opening on Broadway and featured a cast of classically trained African-American singers – something that was considered a daring artistic choice at the time. After an initially unpopular public reception, a 1976 production by the Houston Grand Opera granted it new popularity, and it is now one of the best-known and most frequently performed operas of the twentieth century. It was adapted as a film in 1959. Some of the songs in the opera, such as Summertime and My Man’s Gone Now, became popular hits and are frequently recorded.
Jerome Kern was born in New York City in 1885 and grew up in the middle-class atmosphere of East 56th Street, attending public schools and then studying at the New York College of Music (1902-3) and later in Heidelberg, Germany (1903-4). He began his stage career grafting American songs he wrote himself into imported European operettas. His breakthrough came in 1914 with the song They Didn’t Believe Me, which he wrote for the show The Girl from Utah (with lyrics by Edward Laska). It is considered to be the first American ballad. Subsequent hits include Go Little Boat (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse, 1917), Look for the Silver Lining (lyrics by B.G. DeSylva, 1920), and Who? (lyrics by Harbach and Hammerstein II, 1925).
In 1927, Kern again teamed up with Oscar Hammerstein II, and the two adapted Edna Ferber’s novel Show Boat into what has come to be known as one of the greatest of all American musicals. Kern continued to write for Broadway until 1935 when he went to Hollywood, where he spent the rest of his career and wrote some of his best music, including the popular hits A Fine Romance and The Way You Look Tonight (with lyrics by Dorothy Fields), which earned the team an Academy Award for best song in 1936.
In his 40-year career, Kern wrote 104 stage and screen vehicles. Following his death in 1945 at age 60, then President Harry Truman is quoted as saying, “[Kern’s] melodies will live in our voices and warm our hearts for many years to come…The man who gave them to us earned a lasting place in his nation’s history.”
Show Boat, the earliest American musical play with a serious plot drawn from a literary source, is said to have pioneered the concept of a fully integrated musical, with all aspects of the show working together toward a single artistic unity. It departed from the previously typical musical comedy material, designed for chorus lines and songs to showcase star performers and, instead, featured serious melodrama with musical numbers that actually revealed character and furthered the plot.
Show Boat is considered by many a testament to the courage of composer Kern, lyricist and librettist Hammerstein II, and producer Florenz Ziegfeld. In an era of “willful nonsense,” they attempted a complicated musical narrative with challenging themes and storylines. It also was the first time that serious black and white characters held the stage together as equals. With themes including racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love, Show Boat follows the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dock workers on the “Cotton Blossom,” a Mississippi River show boat, over a 40-year period from 1887 to 1927. It is a complicated musical with a multiracial cast and a plot that deals with interracial marriage, wife desertion, alcoholism, and gambling. Noted for its musical richness and its influence on other Broadway composers, who saw it as a model of writing for the musical stage, it included such memorable songs as Ol’ Man River, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, and Make Believe.
Broadway had never seen anything of the kind when Show Boat arrived at the Ziegfeld Theatre in 1927. The themes and songs were compelling – and the complete antithesis of the upbeat material popular at a time when many white Americans did not wish to acknowledge the injustices to African Americans. Yet the quality of the show was recognized immediately by critics, and it is frequently revived. Awards did not exist for Broadway shows in 1927, or even in 1932 when Show Boat was brought back to the stage. However, late 20th century revivals have won both the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival (1991) and the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical (1995).
You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught sung by John Kerr (with Rossano Brazzi) in the 1958 movie production by Twentieth Century Fox.
from 2001 South Pacific film
Bali Ha’i with Juanita Hall (dubbed by Muriel Smith) and John Kerr in the 1958 movie production by Twentieth Century Fox
Some Enchanted Evening with Rossano Brazzi (dubbed by Giorgio Tozzi) and Mitzi Gaynor in the 1958 movie production by Twentieth Century Fox
Another significant American composer of the 20th century, Richard Rodgers is known primarily for his work in musical theater, having 43 Broadway musicals and over 900 songs to his credit. Born into a Jewish family in Queens, New York, in 1902, Rodgers attended Columbia University and later The Juilliard School. His major influences included such composers as Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern, as well as the operettas and shows his parents took him to see on Broadway when he was a child.
Rodgers is best known for his songwriting partnerships with the lyricist Lorenz Hart, with whom he wrote musicals throughout the 20s and 30s (including Pal Joey, Babes in Arms, and A Connecticut Yankee), and later with Oscar Hammerstein II, with whom he collaborated during the 40s and 50s. (Their credits include Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music.) His musicals written with Hammerstein in particular are celebrated for bringing the genre to a new maturity by telling stories that were centered around characters and drama, rather than the light-hearted entertainment that was common in prior decades.
Rodgers was the first person to win all of what are considered to be the top American entertainment awards in theater, film, recording, and television: a Tony, an Oscar, a Grammy, and an Emmy. In addition, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950 for his musical, South Pacific. In 1978, Rodgers was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors for his lifetime achievement in the arts.
Richard Rodgers’ partnership with Oscar Hammerstein II is considered the most successful collaboration in the history of American musical theater. Their first musical, Oklahoma! (1943) – for which they won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944 – was a groundbreaking hit. The team went on to create four more works that are still ranked among the most popular musicals ever written. Each was subsequently made into a very successful film: Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959).
South Pacific was inspired by a collection of short stories from World War II and based on the novel by James Michener, Tales of the South Pacific. It is the story of an American woman, Ensign Nellie Forbush, who falls in love with a Frenchman, Emile De Becque, while stationed as a navy nurse in the South Pacific. Across the island another new love develops between Lt. Joseph Cable and a native Tonkinese woman named Liat. These two couples are repeatedly put to the test as their cultures clash under the turmoil of the war.
In the second act of South Pacific, Lt. Cable sings You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, a song that asserts that people are not born with racial prejudice, but rather are taught that bias by society. During rehearsals, Rodgers and Hammerstein were reportedly counseled to remove the song, which was considered by many to be too controversial, too preachy, or simply inappropriate for a musical. According to Michener, they resisted this pressure. He said, “The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.”
To say that South Pacific was successful would be an understatement: it was a true blockbuster. And it has been acclaimed for its sensitive and courageous treatment of the subject of racial prejudice. But it also drew critics and controversy for its coverage of the uncomfortable territory of interracial romance, which was still taboo at the time.
The Best of All Possible Worlds, London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein with Jerry Hadley (Candide) June Anderson (Cunegonde) Adolph Green (Dr. Pangloss) Kurt Ollmann (Maximilian) Della Jones (Paquette)
Glitter and Be Gay, 2005 Candide in Concert with the Westminster Symphonic Choir conducted by Sir Thomas Allen, sung by Kristin Chenoweth
Make our Garden Grow, John Wilson Orchestra under John Wilson, BBC Proms; Scarlet Strallen; Julian Ovenden; Louise Dearman; Lucy Schaufer and the Maida Vale Singers
Leonard Bernstein was born in Massachusetts in 1918 and attended Boston Latin School, Harvard University, and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied both conducting and orchestration. He also studied conducting at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts. An American conductor, composer, and pianist noted for his accomplishments in both classical and popular music, Bernstein’s flamboyant conducting style won him a place as Music Director and Conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969.
Bernstein’s popularity grew not only through his appearances as a conductor and pianist, but also as a commentator and entertainer. He was known for his pedagogic flair, especially in his concerts designed for young people. As a composer, Bernstein made skillful use of diverse elements ranging from Biblical themes (Symphony No. 1, subtitled Jeremiah, and the Chichester Psalms); to jazz rhythms (Symphony No. 2, The Age of Anxiety, after a poem by W.H. Auden); to Jewish liturgical themes (Symphony No. 3, Kaddish). His best-known works, though, were his musicals; On the Town (1944; filmed in 1949), Wonderful Town (1953; filmed in 1958), Candide (1956), and the award-winning West Side Story (1957; filmed in 1961). He also wrote the scores for ballets, like Fancy Free (1944), as well as the music for the film On the Waterfront (1954), for which he received an Academy Award nomination.
In 1953 renowned playwright Lillian Hellman proposed to Bernstein that they adapt Voltaire’s Candide for the musical theater. Voltaire’s 1758 novella satirized fashionable philosophies of his day, in particular the Catholic Church whose Inquisition routinely tortured and killed “heretics” in an event known as an “auto-da-fé” (“act of faith”). Hellman had observed a sinister parallel between the Inquisition’s church-sponsored purges and the “Washington Witch Trials” of the 40s and 50s, fueled by anti-Communist hysteria and waged by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Charged with rage and indignation, Hellman began work with Bernstein and lyricist John LaTouche on a production that premiered on Broadway in 1956.
Although the theme of political aggression was what originally attracted Hellman to the project, her sharpest writing on the topic was ironically jettisoned while the show was still in rehearsal out of town. It is said that director Tyrone Guthrie became especially nervous about Hellman’s “auto-da-fé” scene, as it directly satirized McCarthy’s House Committee. The original production, which opened in New York on December 1, 1956, to mixed reviews, closed on February 2, 1957. In 1959, a full-scale production opened on the West End in London with a revised book credited to Hellman and a new musical number (We Are Women, with lyrics by Bernstein) included. In the United States, however, there was no major production until 1966.
In 1971 the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera mounted a production in which Sheldon Patinkin completely revised Hellman’s book and substantially rearranged the musical numbers. It was for this production that Bernstein wrote the song Words, Words, Words, which includes a bitter reprise of The Best of All Possible Worlds. Though unsuccessful, this production spurred new interest in Candide. In 1973 Harold Prince and Hugh Wheeler devised a new, small-scale version. Unfortunately, it drew the ire of Hellman, who withdrew her original adaptation of Voltaire. Thus the original 1956 version of Candide is no longer available for performance. Still there are five different versions available to license today, the revised and renewed version presented by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1989 being the latest. For this production, Bernstein restored about two dozen bars in the “Auto-da-Fé” and touched up the orchestration throughout. He altered the endings of several numbers, including Glitter and Be Gay, where he placed chords on off-beats in the manner of Tchaikovsky, whose Fourth Symphony he had just conducted.
Throughout the Leonard Bernstein Centennial of 2018, Candide received 342 performances by opera companies and ensembles in 25 countries across North and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe, including 34 US states, thus raising Candide’s status from the 92nd most performed opera worldwide in 2017 to the 11th most performed in 2018.