Production Info

Directed by Gina Kaufmann

Music by Kurt Weill, Lyrics by Langston Hughes, & Book by Elmer Rice


In a working class Manhattan neighborhood in 1929, tensions build as the people in this multi-ethnic neighborhood rub up against one another. The story centers primarily on an extramarital affair and a romance between a Jewish and a gentile teenager, but the rich undertones of longing and the layered relationships bring this entire complex little world to life. Weill called it “An American Opera”, interweaving jazz, musical theatre and classical opera esthetics with spoken word.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Street Scene Press Release

UMass Amherst

Street Scene at a glance

by Kurt Weill, Elmer Rice, and Langston Hughes
directed by Gina Kaufmann
musical direction by Mark Swanson
choreography by Erica Wilson-Perkins
special guest: bass-baritone John Cheek
special guest: soprano Dana Schnitzer
Feb. 21, 26, 28, March 1 at 8 p.m.
Feb. 23 at 2 p.m.
The Rand Theater (For this production, tickets will be reserved seating.)
Buy tickets to Street Scene

Related events

Post-show Q&A

For this landmark event, the Department of Theater expands its usual First Friday Q&A program. Audiences at the Feb. 21, 23 and 28 performances are invited to stay after the performance for a free Q&A with members of the creative team and cast.

Special events

The three men whose collective genius createdStreet Scene were each masters of their craft. We invite community members to join us for three FREE events in February that highlight their individual talents.

Cabaret! Songs of Kurt Weill
Featuring student performers with Clifton J. Noble, Music Director
Sunday 02.02.14 at 4:00 PM
Sweeney Recital Hall in Sage Hall, Smith College

Hold Fast to Dreams: The Poetry of Langston Hughes
with Steven C. Tracy, Professor of Afro-American Studies, UMass
Sunday 02.09.14 at 4:00 PM
Bezanson Recital Hall, UMass

Stirring The Melting Pot: Elmer Rice's We, The People
a staged reading directed by Paul Adolphsen, UMass Theater Department
Sunday 02.16.14 at 2:00 PM
University Museum of Contemporary Art, Fine Arts Center, UMass

A community of artists comes together to createStreet Scene

Street Scene is the most influential show you’ve never heard of. This 1947 artistic hybrid, the result of an unlikely collaboration among playwright Elmer Rice, poet Langston Hughes and composer Kurt Weill, left a huge mark on musical theater, with everyone from Cole Porter to Stephen Sondheim taking inspiration from its innovations.

And just as three very different men came together to create this American opera about life in a run-down Manhattan tenement, a diverse group of artists is collaborating to mount a mammoth production with a three story set, a forty-person cast and a thirty-piece orchestra, opening Feb. 21 in the Rand Theater at UMass. The piece is a co-production of UMass Theater and Five College Opera.

“It’s a coming together of over 90 collaborators, from different disciplines, across different campuses, to create a story about a multi-ethnic community and the glue that holds it together and rips it apart,” said Gina Kaufmann, a UMass Theater faculty member who is the opera’s director.

The cast includes John Cheek, a world-class bass-baritone singer who has sung at the White House and appeared at the Metropolitan opera more than 350 times, and soprano Dana Schnitzer, a UMass alumna and faculty member who also serves as Artistic Director of MetroWest Opera in Boston. Cheek and Schnitzer serve as mentors to several generations of cast members across a wide range of experience, from an 8-year-old making her opera debut to students from the Five Colleges who are looking toward music or theater careers, and a number of experienced performers from across the Pioneer Valley.

The characters of Street Scene are thrown together by circumstance in the run-down tenement in a multi-ethnic, working class Manhattan neighborhood during two stifling summer days in 1946. The story, by turns joyful, playful, and melancholy, centers around a romance between a Jewish and a gentile teenager and on the consequences of a mother’s extramarital affair and a father’s rage, but it is the rich undertones of longing and the layered relationships amid the tenement residents that bring the complex world of Street Scene to life. The story is in part about the limits of dreams and aspirations as a younger generation struggles to forge a path different from its parents’.

The music reflects the diversity of the community from which it springs. With elements that encompass classical music forms, spoken word, the jazz esthetic, and even film noir orchestrations, this piece stretches the art of opera in fascinating directions. Some of the music underscores dance numbers influenced by the jitterbug, the charleston, and praise dancing from the Black churches of the day.

“It uses all of these different musical styles that match the characters,” said Street Scene musical director Mark Swanson, an Amherst College music professor. The elements create a musical collage to shape the identity of the piece.

“It’s a diverse group finding a common language,” Swanson said. He was talking about the singers and the production team, but he could just as well have been talking about Weill, Rice and Hughes and the characters they bring to life.

Street Scene is a co-production of the Department of Theater and Five College Opera.

This production is made possible in part by the Kurt Weill Foundation.
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University of Massachusetts Amherst
151 Presidents Drive
Amherst, MA 01003-9331
Penny Remsen, Department Chair
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