Review: Lost in the Stars’ tackles tough issues in exceptional musical production

Bass-baritone Eric Owens stars in “Lost in the Stars,” a gripping musical tragedy based on Alan Paton’s classic 1948 novel “Cry, the Beloved Country.” The Washington National Opera production is Kurt Weill’s final work for the stage and is playing in the Eisenhower Theatre at The Kennedy Center through Saturday, Feb. 20.

Paton’s influential 1948 novel, “Cry, the Beloved Country.” The book was actually banned in South Africa for many decades. The book is believed to have helped foster civil rights changes in the US, as well as put pressure on South Africa that helped end apartheid The production drives home the societal issues prevalent at that time.

Lost in the Stars

The opera is set in the summer of 1949, and follows the journey of black South African Anglican priest, Stephen Kumalo, as he leaves his village to locate and restore his fractrured family. His son, Absalom, left for the city many years and instead of finding a better life finds himself defeated by the caste system and poverty. Absalom ends up turning to criminal behavior to support himself and his pregnant girlfriend, Irina.

Owens owns the role with his deep, rich baritone and makes the emotions of Stephen so believable, palpable and heart-wrenching. He shines exceptionally with his delivery on “Thousands of Miles” and “The Little Gray House.” Manu Kumasi gives the character of Absalom a certain grit which will leave the audience conflicted on whether to be sympathetic or frustrated with him as he struggles.

This production shuttles through a range of emotions with dynamic performances, memorable songs and thoughts to ponder about family, the racial divide and how hope and reconciliation are still possible.

“Lost in the Stars” runs through Saturday, February 20 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. For tickets call (800) 444-1324 or purchase them online.

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