Theatre / Lady in the Dark

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Lady in the Dark is a 1941 psychoanalytic musical play by Moss Hart, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by Kurt Weill. The original production starred Gertrude Lawrence, with Danny Kaye in a supporting role. There was a film adaptation in 1944 starring Ginger Rogers.

Liza Elliott has been editor of the Fashion Magazine Allure for the last decade. Though she appears to be satisfied with her job and in complete control of her affairs, lately she has been overcome by depression and feelings of panic. Her irrational solicitude has been aggravated by the weird, fantastic dreams she has been having. It is furthermore no consolation to her that her longtime publisher, Kendall Nesbitt, has gone to the trouble of divorcing his wife so that she could be free to marry him, especially since handsome, hunky movie star Randy Curtis just walked into her office a few minutes before.

So Liza, on her doctor's recommendation, goes to visit a psychoanalyst to discover what is making her emotional state go to pieces, since she is a completely healthy woman aside from her irrational fears. The psychoanalyst, Dr. Brooks, notices the contrast between the glamorous personality Liza imagines herself as in her dreams and the real Liza's preference for severely tailored business suits, strange for a woman whose chosen career is in telling the most glamorous women what to wear. What finally helps Liza resolve all her worries is going back to memories of her childhood, in which she recalls the words of the song whose tune has haunted all her dreams.


This musical show contains examples of:

  • Age-Progression Song: "The Saga of Jenny". Jenny makes her mind up at 3, 12, 22, 39, 51 and 75, never learning the song's moral.
  • Beautiful All Along: Liza undergoes this sort of transformation at the end of the first act. It's not such a surprise to the audience, since her glamorous self has already appeared in two dream sequences.
  • Betty and Veronica: Liza Elliott, editor of Allure magazine, is unable to make up her mind between Kendall Nesbitt, the publisher who started the magazine for her, and hunky Hollywood actor Randy Curtis. She finally decides to reject both and Take a Third Option.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: In the third Dream Sequence, Liza Elliott is put on trial for refusing to marry Kendall Nesbitt as she promised. The phrase "breach of promise" is not used, however, partly because, as Liza suggests, women were traditionally immune to such claims.
  • Circle of Shame: The Circus Dream ends with Charley's voice rising in accusation and the chorus laughing at Liza. As they leave her and the dream fades, they chant, "Make up your mind! Make up your mind!"
  • The Ditherer: Liza Elliott, acclaimed in the Circus Dream as "The Woman Who Cannot Make up Her Mind!"
  • Dream Melody: "My Ship". Liza keeps humming a childhood tune to herself at times when she is lost in thought or is overcome with panic. She can't recall the words to it ("My ship has sails that are made of silk...") until she relives her childhood in flashbacks with the help of her psychoanalyst. Lyricist Ira Gershwin compared the importance of "My Ship" to the show to that of "a stolen necklace or missing will to a melodrama."
  • Dream Sequence: Three dreams, all musicalized.
  • Engagement Challenge: In the song "Princess of Pure Delight", a King demands his daughter's suitors answer the riddle, "What word of five letters is always spelled wrong?"
  • Fashion Magazine: Allure, which Liza and her colleagues work on.
  • Flashback Effects: The dream transitions in the original production were done with a complicated system of turntables within turntables and a kaleidoscopic light effect to get the cinematic effect Moss Hart apparently wanted.
  • The Freakshow: The Circus Dream has Liza as the feature attraction of the Greatest Show on Earth: "The Woman Who Cannot Make up Her Mind!"
  • Gem-Encrusted: To make the red dress as sparkly as possible.
  • Glamour Failure: The "Glamor Dream" version of Liza is a wealthy, glamorous lady in blue. As in her dream she is a renowned celebrity with legions of admirers, she can hardly refuse to allow her portrait to be painted, but when the portrait is unveiled, it shows Liza as the austerely dressed, neurotic magazine editor she really is. Consternation ensues.
  • Is That What They're Calling It Now?: Charley insinuates that "color plates" might be the new "etchings":
    Russell: Maggie—either Alison leaves the magazine or I do. This is the end—the absolute end.
    Maggie: Now, Russell...
    Russell: I meant it. She's just calmly loaned my color plates to a friend until Wednesday.
    Charley: Say, that's kind of new... "I'd like you to come up to the apartment and see my color plates."
    Russell: Oh, don't be so Goddamn bright, Johnson—you sicken me.
  • It's Not You, It's Me: Liza says this to Kendall Nesbitt.
  • Kavorka Man: Charley Johnson's female colleagues react with various degrees of offense to his habit of making drunken passes at them. However, he has little trouble getting pretty models to go out with him, even after pinching one on the behind.
  • List Song: Apart from the opening and closing lines, "Tchaikowsky (And Other Russians)" consists of a list of four dozen Russian composers.
  • Married to the Job: Charley accuses Liza of being married to her desk.
  • Medley Overture: Lady in the Dark, unusually for its time, has no opening music at all; it brings the curtain up on the opening scene without a single note of music from the orchestra, and music comes in only when Liza starts to hum the Dream Melody for the first time. Instead it has an "Overture" before the second act that is a medley of "This Is New", "One Life to Live", "The Saga of Jenny", "My Ship" and the rhumba version of "Girl of the Moment".
  • Morality Ballad: Liza sings "The Saga of Jenny" after being described as "The Woman Who Cannot Make up Her Mind". The moral of the story is that making up your mind can get you in a lot of trouble.
  • Musical World Hypothesis: A particularly explicit version of "All Their Heads"; all the elaborate musical numbers take place during the dream sequences.
  • Patter Song: "Tchaikowsky (and Other Russians)", featuring a list of four dozen Russian composers that Danny Kaye could rattle off in under a minute.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: A film version has Liza wear a red dress with a mink skirt, loads of jewels, and a mink jacket. Another dress was a Medieval style dress.
  • Pretty in Mink: Liza dreams of a red dress with a mink skirt, and a mink jacket, then makes it for real.
  • The Reveal: Liza's neurosis comes from thinking she isn't beautiful or desirable as a result of youthful traumas.
  • Shout-Out: The Circus Dream includes a Shout-Out to a famous number from The Mikado:
    Jury: Our object all sublime
    We shall achieve in time,
    To let the melody fit the rhyme,
    The melody fit the rhyme.
    Ringmaster: This is all immaterial and irrelevant!
    What do you think this is — Gilbert and Sellivant?
  • The Shrink: Dr. Brooks analyzes Liza's musical dream sequences and discovers the roots of her nervous disorder in her childhood memories.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Said in the Wedding Dream, where it's the cue for the chorus to object to the mentally afflicted Liza's marrying Kendall Nesbitt, over her protests of "I do! I do!":
    The murmurings of conscience do increase
    And conscience can no longer hold its peace.
    This twain should ne'er be joined in holy wedlock
    Or e'en in secular board-and-bedlock.
    This is no part of heaven's marriage plan:
    This woman knows she does not love this man!
  • Stock Lateral Thinking Puzzle: The Engagement Challenge in the song "Princess of Pure Delight".
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: In the Circus Dream, this little bit of dialogue is all it takes to introduce a completely irrelevant patter song:
    Ringmaster: Charming, charming! Who wrote that music?
    Chorus: Tchaikowsky!
    Ringmaster: Tchaikowsky! I love Russian composers!
  • Tongue Twister: "The Best Years Of His Life":
    The mister who once was the master of two
    Would make of his mistress his Mrs.
    But he's missed out on Mrs. for the mistress is through—
    What a mess of a mish-mash this is!
  • Twisted Christmas: In "The Saga of Jenny", Jenny's parents are killed at Christmas in a fire caused by a mishap lighting festive candles.

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