ALAN Paton's moving novel of racial conflicts in South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country, was the source of Lost in the Stars. At the hands of Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill, the musical play became a work not only of surpassing compassion and humanity and a promise of man's brotherhood but also a work of such impressive artistic dimension that there have been some American critics who prefer to identify it not as a "musical play" but as an opera. Indeed, on several occasions Lost in the Stars has been successfully performed by American opera companies. Weill consigned some of the most eloquent music of his score to the chorus, which occasionally occupies a unique role as a kind of commentator-interpreter.
The play opens in the little South African hill village of Ndotsheni, where Reverend Stephen Kumalo, a humble Negro preacher, looks after his people. He is pining for his son Absalom, who has long since left home to earn money for his future education and from whom Kumalo has not heard a word for a year. Absalom's mother is convinced that either the boy is in trouble or has deserted them, but the father reassures her that true love can never separate people, however great the distance, however long the time of separation, however impenetrable the silence ("Thousands of Miles"). In spite of this encouragement, Stephen allows himself to be persuaded by his wife to use their life's savings for a visit to the city of Johannesburg in search of their son. But the preacher fails to find his son their.
Meanwhile, Absalom is in a honky-tonk in Johannesburg, listening to Linda sing a provocative ditty ("Who'll Buy?"). Absalom is now in love with Irina, who is about to bear him a child. In an effort to get some badly needed money for his girl and unborn child, Absalom joins a gang in a robbery. Irina is upset to see him get involved in crime ("Trouble Man"), and heartbroken when she discovers he has killed a white man. A chorus is no heard to comment upon the terror striking everybody in South Africa: the terror of the masses for the powerful few, and the terror of the powerful few for the masses ("Fear").
Reverend Kumalo visits his son in prison with the vain hope of being of some help. In his immense sorrow, Kumalo cannot help wondering of God had not deserted him and his flock ("Lost in the Stars"). Nevertheless, he prays to God for guidance and help ("O Tixo, O Tixo, Help Me").
At the trial, Absalom's accomplices manage to get acquitted by lying, but Absalom is found guilty and must die by hanging. At this point the chorus returns, this time to lament the loss of a good son and the waste of a good man ("Cry, the Beloved Country").
In the hills of Ndotsheni, Kumalo gathers his flock. They raise their voices in a poignant chant about the life of man who is born in darkness and who in darkness must die ("Bird of Passage"). Just before Absalom is executed, the father of the murdered man comes to visit Kumalo. Instead of bringing hate in his heart, he comes with pity and human understanding: he realizes that their mutual sorrow and loss has made them brothers, even though one is white, and the other black.
Lost in the Stars was Weill's last Broadway musical play: he died in New York City less than a year after its première, on April 3, 1950. With Lost in the Stars Weill's career in the theatre had come full circle. He had begun his career in Germany by making opera into popular music; and he had ended his career in America by succeeding in making popular music into opera.
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