Lorna Dallas

December 22, 2019 | By | Add a Comment

Lorna Dallas—an American who made a name for herself as a young singer in London, and then decided to make a life there—returned to New York City’s Birdland Theater recently with an encore performance of the show she debuted there in February. Stages, directed by Barry Kleinbort, with musical direction by pianist Chris Denny, gave us a performer drawing on her polished skills as actor, singer, and storyteller to deliver rich renditions of songs familiar and esoteric, along with some easygoing patter. Her ability to tap into the emotional core of a lyric and make it fresh seems almost reflexive. The songs don’t reside in her memory so much as they live in her bones.

Stages was a look back at her life and career. Her opening number was a pensive, focused mashup of Stephen Sondheim’s “The Glamorous Life” (from the film version of A Little Night Music) and Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” This set the stage for an hour or so of fond remembrances. Dallas told of growing up in a very conventional small-town-Illinois family that loved music, but with parents who forbade her (for a while, anyway) to seek a career as a singer. Undaunted, she came to New York at age 17, where she won a Town Hall talent contest sponsored by Coca-Cola.

Along the way, the show took on the contours of a traditionally structured musical play, giving us a textbook definition of a “wanting song” in Marc Blitzstein’s “I Wish It So,” followed by Kander and Ebb’s anthem of unflagging determination, “All I Need Is One Good Break.” Soon we followed her to a richly appointed mansion in New Orleans where she is given sound advice by a lady with more than a little entrepreneurial savvy (Cole Porter’s “Never Give Anything Away”). Leslie Bricusse’s seldom-heard “At the Crossroads,” from the 1967 film Dr. Doolittle, served as a way of segueing into the second act of young Lorna’s story, when she heads off to Great Britain, where she will eventually perform on concert stages, in West End musicals, on television, and in numerous appearances for members of the Royal Family.

In the show’s last third or so, Dallas really showed us just how it’s done, with some particularly rich and insightful musical turns. She made “Teach Me Tonight (Gene de Paul, Sammy Cahn) an expression of innocent but joyful curiosity rather than of adolescent naughtiness. She cleverly paired the languorous and sensual “Lazy Afternoon” (Jerome Moross, John Latouche) with the more frankly sexual “Under the Tree” (Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt). Best of all was her take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Hello, Young Lovers,” which was not so much a mature woman’s memories of romantic happiness as an ecstatic epiphany about her place in the human race’s unending saga of romantic love.

Dallas has at least two singing voices—one with a straightforward, pop-singing quality and the other a more “legit,” operetta star’s sound. With Kismet‘s “Stranger in Paradise” (Robert Wright, George Forrest, Alexander Borodin), she demonstrated this vocal dichotomy as she frenetically showed us what it was like singing the number in both the West End production and a nightclub engagement on the same evening. (Imagine a duet between Judy Garland and Deanna Durbin, but with the same singer performing both parts.) To make things even more amusing, Dallas had a third job at the time: performing music for German television, so into the number’s mix came bits of the song in German.

She referred to Denny as her “musical heartbeat,” and the two did appear to have an easy, natural rapport. His playing was especially effective on “Lazy Afternoon,” in which his accompaniment suggested the drowsy trickling of a brook in midsummer.

As much as I enjoy having Dallas share her memories, I hope she’ll keep an eye on what could lie ahead as well. She is a vital musical presence, and new stages await her.

Stages
Birdland Theater  –  December 3

Category: Reviews

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Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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