Lost in the Stars is a rare and interesting musical. Premiering on Broadway in 1949, this operatic musical—based on Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country—showcases the social conditions that fomented the mistrust between Black Africans and the descendants of white colonizers in pre-apartheid South Africa. With book and lyrics by Maxwell Anderson and music by Kurt Weill, this musical tackles topics that seem to continue to plague modern-day Western cultures: poverty, racism, division—you name it, we’ve got it.
Director Dennis Whitehead Darling and Conductor Craig Kier helm the staging and orchestration for this soul-searching musical, produced by Annapolis Opera for the first time in the state of Maryland. Lost in the Stars forces us to take a hard look at our flaws, as well as our reasons for hope.
Like many Americans, I would consider myself to have an average amount of knowledge about South African apartheid. Briefly, apartheid—which literally means “apartness” in the language of Afrikaans—was a system of laws enacted between 1949 and 1971 that enforced segregation and disparity between Black and white South Africans. Lost in the Stars begins in the era immediately preceding the enactment of these laws.
The story itself centers around an Anglican priest, Rev. Stephen Kumalo (Carl Dupont), and his search for his son, Absalom (Naivell Steib). Absalom hasn’t written or been seen in Rev. Kumalo’s small country town since he went to Johannesburg to make a living a year prior to the start of the narrative. The duration of the production follows Rev. Kumalo as he seeks and find his son, whose desperation has led to legal trouble and wayward behavior. Forgiveness and repentance are major themes, but I won’t spoil the resolution for those who are unfamiliar with the musical or the book it’s based on.
I really appreciate the work Annapolis Opera put into bringing such a talented group of singers together for this production. It’s really difficult to know where to start in praising their work. From the moment the powerful bass-baritone Nicholas Davis introduces us to the setting in “The Hills of Ixopo,” it’s clear that there’s something special about this cast. Bass-baritone Carl Dupont, as Rev. Stephen Kumalo, showcases both his vocal talent and acting chops. He hits a soaring high point in the titular “Lost in the Stars.” Davis and Dupont each have a rich timbre but are distinct. Davis is a bass-baritone of the broad and sweeping variety, whereas Dupont is more personal and layered. Each has its merits, and both work well here.
Ruth Acheampong is clear as a bell; her agile and intense soprano is perfect for the lovestruck and wayward Irina. Her performance of the aria “Stay Well” was emotionally cathartic in the way that it should have been. Likewise, Kari Dione Lumpkin’s turn as Linda, though brief, was stunning. “Who’ll Buy?” is a song that is, admittedly, plagued with the lyrical goofiness typical of the era in which it was written, but Lumpkin’s voice and delivery are thoroughly convincing and are a huge highlight during Act One. While there were some singers who still need a bit of work on their technique, there wasn’t one that I thought didn’t have the raw skill to ascend to bigger roles in the future.
I’d like to take note of the children in the production. Christian Eberhardt—who sings the adorable “Big Mole” as Alex—has a bright future in the performing arts. Teagan Miller (playing Nita) lends her immense talents to the “Big Mole” scene as well, dancing enthusiastically as Eberhardt sings. Likewise, Lincoln Dodson is the picture of professionalism, inhabiting his role as Edward Jarvis in a serious and believable way that lends itself to the depth of the narrative. They all did a phenomenal job in their roles in this intense and emotionally charged musical.
Set Designer April Joy Bastain makes perfect use of Maryland Hall’s somewhat primitive setup. A hulking structure with three openings provides a more than adequate space for the narrative to unfold. The rustic and industrial quality of the set evokes impoverished shantytowns. Alongside Projection Designer Peter Leibold, whose work provides the backdrop for each scene, Bastain helps to transport us to early 20th-century South Africa.
Lost in the Stars is as relevant now as it was when it was released in the early Civil Rights era. We struggle with racism and income disparity today. We struggle with forgiveness and repentance right here and now. While watching this production, I was reminded of the story of St. Francis of Assisi, who heard God tell him to rebuild God’s church. St. Francis then rebuilt the church of San Damiano—brick by brick. Subsequent saints and scholars would argue that St. Francis misunderstood God, that the “rebuilding” was to be figurative and not literal. I believe St. Francis understood very well. No one person can repair all of society’s ills. Sometimes we can only fix what is right in front of us. I saw this reflected powerfully in Lost in the Stars’ tragic and hopeful story of Rev. Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom.
Lost in the Stars is a stunning and engaging production. The Annapolis Opera has more than done justice to this story. Their strong cast of singers, along with the relevance of this tale to modern audiences make this musical tragedy a must-see.
Running Time: Two hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.
Lost in the Stars plays through October 30, 2022, presented by Annapolis Opera performing at Maryland Hall, 801 Chase St, Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($28–$100) call the box office at 410-280-5640 or purchase online.
The cast and creative team credits for Lost in the Stars are online here.
COVID Safety: The Annapolis Opera is currently following the COVID-19 safety policy of Maryland Hall. Masks are encouraged for all performances but are optional inside the building and theaters.