Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, Musical direction by Harold Wheeler. Production staged by Arthur Faria. Musical conductor Coleridge T. Parkinson. This show brings one of the most sophisticated of all the sophisticated ladies to the Nederlander Theater in a superb and unforgettable Broadway musical entertainment.
A vision in white and something slightly more than that in blazing red and gold lame, Miss Horne gives one of those performances that brings clusters of spectators to their feet from time to time for spontaneous ovations.
In range and mood, the show amounts to a one-woman extravaganza. Miss Horne is not merely a singer par excellence. She is very beautiful and can be very funny. She struts and sashays. She can be elegantly classy, or sassy, or low down funky.
With "Lena Horne" writ in proscenium-high letters on the scrim curtain, the entertainment begins with a short overture by a stage band that provides solid in-depth support throughout the evening. As an opener, Miss Horne's version of "From This Moment On" is not merely a high-voltage delivery of a driving Cole Porter standard. It is a foretaste of things to come in an evening that exults in the range and variety of the American popular songs, particularly its show tunes. The credits abound in names like Koehler, Arlen, Harburg, Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, Martin, Blane, Youmans, Charnin, Aznavour, and numerous others.
The lady weaves biographical fragments into her musical retrospective, starting with Cotton Club days ("Copper Colored Gal of Mine") and including several flashbacks to her embittering Hollywood experiences ("I felt bad for a while -- 12 years.") The movie "Mo-guls" of those ordeals becomes the stuff of comedy in the singer's satirical reminiscences. What she also remembers about Hollywood provided many of the songs that have helped her career as an international performer.
Introducing "Stormy Weather" one of her cinema classics, Mis Horne observes that it was a song she had to grow to. On the other hand, she has only fond memories of "Jamaica," the Harburg-Arlen musical that took her to Broadway. The calypso lilt of "Push De Button" recalls some of the fun of that happy collaboration.
Like all great stylists, Miss Horne seems to become totally identified with the song she is singing. She grasps its story and character, its immediate drama, its essence. She has an extraordinary sense of a song's italics -- the precise emphasis on word, note, and beat that seems unalterably right at the moment. She can caress a phrase, a word, or syllable. As a performer, Miss Horne seems to be having the kind of good time that makes the audience want to share not merely her performance, but her enjoyment. She says "I love the words and I have great joy of melody line."
The enjoyment is not limited to those thrilling passages when Miss Horne lets it all out. There are exquisite delicacies like "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" (with music director Harold Wheeler's lacy piano obligato), "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" (with a muted trumpet), "Yesterday, When I Was Young" (with guitarist Steve Bargonetti), "love Me or Leave Me" (with bassist Bob Cranshaw). Besides the fervor and intensity of "I Got A Name" and "If You Believe," there is the sweet lyricism of "That's What Miracles Are All About," from a musical Charlie (The Wiz) Smalls is working on.
Miss Horne shares the Nederlander stage from time to time with her company of three singer-dancers: Clare Bathe, Tyra Ferrell, and Vondie Curtis-Hall. They join her for such numbers as "Raisin' the Rent," "Lady With a Fan," "As Long As I Love," and "Fly," the last two with the dashingly nimble Mr. Curtis-Hall. The show has been stylishly staged by Arthur Faria and slickly designed by David Gropman (setting), thomas Skelton (lighting), and Stanley Simmons (costumes). The lady's gorgeous wardrobe is by Giorgio Sant'Angelo.