Marc Blitzstein: In the Clear
Michael and I both had a hankering to revive NYFOS’ tradition of presenting rare theater pieces in concert versions. Kurt Weill’s “Silverlake” was a feature of the last NYFOS@Juilliard evening, and the three songs we did whetted my appetite for more. It is extremely unlikely that New Yorkers will be seeing a staged version any time soon, and the material seemed uncannily apt for the current political moment. Michael had his eye on Marc Blitzstein’s “No For an Answer,” whose songs have periodically graced our programs over the years.
Each of these works was stillborn, with just a couple of performances at the time of their creation. The Nazis shut down “Silverlake” and pronounced Weill an enemy of the state. He fled the country. Blitzstein, on the other hand, mainly had himself to blame for the three-show run of “No For an Answer.” He couldn’t let go of the piece, tinkering with the script season after season, waiting for the perfect venue, determined to have the perfect cast. Eventually the war intervened and his musical no longer captured the Zeitgeist as it would have three or four years earlier. In addition, the Mecca Temple where it played was plagued with a slew of building violations, and the city government shut the production down. “No For an Answer” garnered respectful reviews, and it featured the Broadway debut of a promising performer—Carol Channing. But its moment had passed. Blitzstein had to content himself with a succès d’estime. Soon after, he was shipped off to London to serve in the Army.
Here’s one of the songs from the show: “In the Clear,” originally sung by Clara, wife of the wealthy, alcoholic Paul. She is philosophical and perceptive, he is idealistic and somewhat belligerent. Here she gently rebukes her husband, reminding him that he can’t simply be “full of promise” as he nears the age of 30. I know of very few other songs that address this delicate subject: the uncomfortable moment when a young adult realizes he can no longer coast on his potential.
The performance: William Sharp, with me at the piano.