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Kean – Original Broadway Cast 1961

Kean – Original Broadway Cast 1961

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Synopsis

ACT I Before a richly ornate red curtain, reminiscent of the elegant early nineteenth-century English theatre, Christie (Alfred DeSio), a young acrobat and street peddler, offers his wares: drawings of the greatest actor of the age, Edmund Kean, known to his admirers as the King of London (“Penny Plain, Twopence Colored”). On the stage of Drury Lane Theatre, then as now the leading playhouse in London, Kean (Alfred Drake) angrily rejects an invitation to the Danish embassy ball – it seems that he is merely expected to perform. Bitterly Kean explains to his dresser Solomon (Truman Smith) the conflict between an actor’s roles and his own life (“Man and Shadow”). But Kean is also an enthusiastic romantic, whose love of the moment is the Danish ambassador’s beautiful wife, Countess Elena De Koeberg (Joan Weldon). At the thought of seeing her at the ball, Kean changes his mind and decides to attend. At the dazzling “Mayfair Affair,” Elena and her friend Lady Amy Goswell (Patricia Cutts) gossip about the latest scandal: Lord Neville (Roderick Cook), a gambler and ne’er-do-well, has been courting Anna Danby (Lee Venora), an attractive heiress who fled home the day before their proposed marriage. Anna is known to be an adoring admirer of Kean and has been conspicuous for her attendance at every one of his performances for weeks. Knowing of Elena’s interest in the actor, Amy tries to arouse her jealousy. At that very moment, Kean himself appears. While the other guests are distracted, he slyly passes a love letter to Elena, inviting her to a secret rendezvous in his dressing room (“Sweet Danger”). While Kean’s enthusiastic friends and admirers – acrobats, merchants, and the like – revel outside the theatre (“Queue at Drury Lane,” “King of London”), the actor waits anxiously for Elena. His dressing room is marvelously cluttered. Costumes for his many roles hang from pegs on the walls. In chaotic disarray on the dressing table are pots and jars of make-up, wig, and other stage gear. When Kean tilts aside one of the many masks hanging on the back wall, a panel slides open to reveal the secret corridor by which his female visitors arrive. As Kean dreams of the Countess, Solomon endeavors vainly to remind him of the mountainous debts incurred during evenings of carousal with his great benefactor and friend, European society’s dashing leader, the Prince of Wales (Oliver Gray) (“To Look Upon My Love”). Just then the Prince himself drops by to persuade Kean to give up Elena. His official explanation is that the actor’s affair with the Danish ambassador’s wife endangers relations (the dairy trade!) between their countries. The Prince even offers to pay all of the actor’s debts if he will renounce her. Sensing that the Prince really wants Elena for himself, Kean refuses violently, declaring that his social position as an actor deprives him of every privilege except that of a lover. Suddenly the secret door opens and a woman veiled in black enters the room. The Prince assumes that this is Elena and departs. The visitor, however, is not Elena at all, but pert Anna Danby, whose flight from Lord Neville has taken her to the room of her hero, Edmund Kean. Anna announces that she wants to be an actress, adding confidently that she always gets what she wants. Kean tests her talent by improvising a scene in which he is a wicked seducer and she is a virtuous maiden (“Let’s Improvise”). He is charmed by Anna’s youthful enthusiasm, if not by her acting, and accepts her as his pupil. She leaves, as the evening’s performance of Romeo and Juliet begins on stage; and, alone once more in his dressing room, Kean muses about “Elena.” Next, on either side of the stage, Elena and the Prince are seen in their respective sumptuous bathtubs, primping and preparing for another elegant ball. Like Kean, they too have roles to play (“Social Whirl”). Late that evening, Kean’s supporting actors Barnaby, Francis, and Ben (Christopher Hewett, Arthur Rubin, Robert Penn) meet the King of London in his favorite tavern, a rough, brawling spot frequented by fighters, sailors, harlots, and other colorful people of the night (“The Fog and the Grog”). Into these seamy surroundings comes Anna Darby, who has received an invitation to join them, signed in Kean’s name. Kean instantly recognizes a vengeful attempt by Lord Neville to disgrace Anna at his expense. When the young fop himself shows up, Kean and friends turn the tables by thoroughly humiliating him, then pitching him out into the bleak London fog. With the villain thwarted, Anna Danby clinging gratefully to him, and faithful friends all around, Kean declares ironically that here is the perfect first act finale. And indeed it is. ACT II The next day Kean is rehearsing with Anna, having invited her to appear as Desdemona in a benefit performance of the murder scene from Othello. Suddenly Elena enters through the secret door to find Kean with her rival. The two women jealously hurl insults at each other while Kean is trapped in the middle (“Civilized People”). Elena warns him that if Anna appears on the stage that night she will turn her affections to the Prince (“Service for Service”). Kean is distraught. He cannot change the scheduled performance, nor can he bring himself to deprive Anna of her great moment on stage. As he begins to put on his make-up, Anna sings Desdemona’s song (“Willow, Willow, Willow”). The scene from Othello begins. Seated in the royal box to the side of the stage, the Prince and Elena begin to distract Edmund and Anna with such loud, snide comments that she forgets her lines. Kean tries to help her, but, outraged by their rudeness, he steps out of character and berates the Prince and Elena from the stage. When the shocked audience responds with angry catcalls, Kean cries out that the public doesn’t love him, for when he tries to be himself they hiss. The public prefers sham; they applaud the shadow, not the man. In a near-riot, Kean’s former admirers pour out into the streets and tear his name from the billboards. The faithful Christie tries to cheer Kean’s few remaining friends {“Chime In”}. Next day, Kean receives a visit from Elena. Both wiser and calmer, they agree to part, admitting with amusement that their great romance was merely acting (“Swept Away”). Then Anna appears and offers Kean a life of domestic tranquility, but he is unwilling to settle down. At that moment, two officers appear to arrest Kean for causing a riot as well as insulting the Prince of Wales. Instead of taking him to prison, however, they escort Kean to the stage of Drury Lane. There he is greeted by the Prince who announces that the punishment for his public insult must be a public apology. Kean orders the curtains raised. Before the vast audience, he apologizes – wittily, profusely, but not in his own words. He has craftily selected phrases from Shakespeare. By apologizing as the actor, not the man, Kean turns his personal defeat into a glorious public triumph (“Apology?”). The great tragedian has come to understand that the heroic Shakespearean figures he plays on the stage are his real being. – from the original liner notes by Miles Krueger Kean opened at the Broadway Theatre in New York City on November 2, 1961, after engagements in Boston and Philadelphia.

Credits

Christie: Alfred DeSio Edmund Kean: Alfred Drake Solomon: Truman Smith Countess Elena De Koeberg: Joan Weldon Lady Amy Goswell: Patricia Cutts Anna Danby: Lee Venora The Prince of Wales: Oliver Gray Lord Neville: Roderick Cook Barnaby: Christopher Hewett Ben: Robert Penn Francis: Arthur Rubin Music and Lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest Musical Director and Conductor: Pembroke Davenport Production staged and choreographed by Jack Cole