Book by Maxwell Anderson, based on Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. Music by Kurt Weill. Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. The original Broadway production opened on 30 October 1949 and was directed by Rouben Mamoulian with choreography by La Verne French, running for 273 performances.
Synopsis and Musical Numbers
August 1949, not long after the coming to power of the National Party in South Africa. Stephen Kumalo, the black priest of St. Mark’s Church, lives with his wife Grace near THE HILLS OF IXOPO in the province of Natal in South Africa. Their son, Absalom, has gone to work in the mines in Johannesburg in order to raise more money for his education but they have had no news lately and Grace is anxious that all may not be well with him. When Stephen receives a letter from his brother, John, in Johannesburg saying that their sister, Gertrude, has turned to prostitution, Grace uses the opportunity to convince him to use the money they have set aside for Absoloms’s education in order to go to Johannesburg to find their son as well as to see what is wrong with Gertrude. Stephen tries to comfort her and agrees to go to Johannesburg (THOUSANDS OF MILES). At the railway station, Stephen is greeted warmly by Arthur Jarvis, whose father, a neighbouring British planter, is affronted by his son’s familiarity with a black person. After a brief argument, they agree to disagree and a TRAIN TO JOHANNESBURG takes Arthur, his schoolboy son, Edward, and Stephen away on their journey.
In John Kumalo’s tobacco shop in Johannesburg, John – who is a political activist – and his friends discuss the situation in South Africa. Stephen arrives and tells John that his sister would not agree to leave but that she was willing to let Stephen take her son, Alex, back to the hills. John accuses him of collaborating with the government by virtue of the fact that he is an Angelican priest, but Stephen ignores him and asks if he has seen Absalom. John tells him that Absolom and his cousin, Matthew, are off working in the textile mill. Stephen goes from place to place in SEARCH of his son, finally discovering that Absalom was in jail, but is now out on parole. He meets with Absalom’s parole officer, the liberal Mark Eland, who promises to take him to Absalom’s girlfriend, Irina, in the morning. Meanwhile, Stephen lodges in a shabby boarding house, where he tells Alex about his home in Ndotsheni (THE LITTLE GREY HOUSE).
Elsewhere, in a dive in Shanty Town, Absolom is moodily sitting on his own. Matthew sits with their friend Johannes and their respective girlfriends, Pafuri and Rose, listening to Linda, a singer who entertains the patrons of this little shebeen (WHO’LL BUY?). Matthew and Johannes approach Absolom to discuss a robbery they have planned in order to get money to go to the new gold fields. Absalom has agreed to do it but he doesn’t want to use a gun. When Absalom’s Irina, who is pregnant, finds out about the planned robbery, she tries to convince him not to go and to come home with her instead. But when Matthew and Johannes return, they talk him back into their camp once more. At home, Irina waits in vain. When Eland brings Stephen to her and they talk, Stephen realises that Irina sincerely loves his son – even if he is something of a TROUBLE MAN.
Ironically, the man that Matthew, Johannes and Absolom plan to rob is Arthur Jarvis – Stephen’s friend for the train station. Nothing goes as planned for the robbers, who end up shooting his Arthur Jarvis dead (MURDER IN PARKWOLD). Jarvis’ grieving father, James, is visited by Mark Eland, who tells him of his son’s noble efforts on behalf of racial equality and informs him that the murderers have been caught. Meanwhile, news of the murder and the search for the criminals has disturbed the inhabitants of Shanty Town. As the Zulus sit in their houses, a policeman patrols the streets and everyone talks about the FEAR and uncertainty they are experiencing. Eland takes Stephen to see Absalom in jail, where his son confesses everything to him. Stephen’s heart is broken but he has to face the fact that his son will never come home again, and that he will have to break the news to his wife. He begins to write a letter, struggling to find the words. When Alex wakes up and asks him what he is doing, Stephen tries to explain that writing this letter is the hardest thing he has ever done. Alex suggests that he should ask God for help but the culmination of these events has brought about a conflict in Stephen’s faith (LOST IN THE STARS).
In John’s tobacco shop, John tells Stephen he will get a lawyer but the boys must all agree to the same
story. Stephen tells him that Absalom has refused to lie, but John explains the law game to Stephen, saying that Absalom had better coincide with the other two (WILD JUSTICE). Stephen wonders how things have come this far and what he can do to help his son (THE SOLILOQUY: O TIXO, TIXO, HELP ME). Stephen deicides to visit James to ask if he will intercede on his son’s behalf. Jarvis refuses because he is afraid that, without punishment, these kinds of events would never stop. Outside her hut, Irina is hanging some clothes on a line (STAY WELL). Stephen enters and tells her about the trial. His hope is that Absalom will tell the truth and only get a prison sentence instead of execution. She says that she will wait for him, but Stephen asks her if she will marry his son in prison. She agrees.
In the courtroom, the judge is seated at his bench. The trial begins with the questioning of Johannes, Matthew and Absalom. Matthew and Johannes lie but Absalom tells the truth (WILD JUSTICE – REPRISE). After the case is presented, the Judge pronounces Matthew and Johannes not guilty before pronouncing Absalom guilty and sentencing him to death by hanging. In Absalom’s prison cell, Stephen marries his son and his beloved, Irina (CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY). She will go back to the Natal with Stephen who has promised to raise the child she is carrying as his own. They all say goodbye.
Back in Ndotsheni, Alex and another little boy and girl from Ixopo play with a small handmade toy (BIG MOLE). Edward Jarvis, Arthur’s grandson arrives and the two boys begin to play together until the Jarvis patriarch, James, calls Edward to him and forbids him to play with the black boy. James hears Stephen speaking from the pulpit in his small church, telling his parish that he connot be their priest anymore because he has been questioning his faith. As he starts to leave, and the villagers reach out to him. He pauses to listen before he leaves for home (A BIRD OF PASSAGE). The next morning, Stephen is sitting on a chair in his home, watching the clock on the shelf. At four o’clock, Absalom will be hanged. Jarvis knocks on the door and Stephen reluctantly lets him in. Jarvis tells him that he heard his speech at the church. He realized that the grief Stephen is feeling is the same as his grief at the death of his son and, as a result, his wife. Jarvis wishes to be friends and asks Stephen if he can sit with him during this great moment of pain. Also, he tells Stephen that out of this painful situation there have been gains and that, despite attempts to achieve the contrary, he respected Absalom for telling the truth. Stephen agrees to this friendship and they forgive each other as the clock strikes four. Stephen sits and buries his head in his hands, while Jarvis his arm around his shoulders to show his support and to signify their reconciliation.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: 1. Lost in the Stars 1949 Original Broadway Cast CD. 2. Lost in the Stars film version DVD. 3. Cry the Beloved Country novel by Alan Paton. 4. Kurt Weill / Songs Volume 1 Sheet Music. 5. Kurt Weill / Songs Volume 2 Sheet Music.