Lorna Dallas: Stages
The Crazy Coqs, Live at Zédel, London
Reviewed by Mark Sykes
Seen March 6th, 2019
Lorna Dallas has had an illustrious career spanning many decades, but has only recently returned to the stage after a 20-year hiatus. From Broadway to the West End (and many locations in between); from Show Boat to Hello Dolly! (and countless others), Lorna Dallas has ‘been there, done that’ – and then some! The journey from being a small town girl in Illinois, to a world-renowned stage performer is what provides the setting in Lorna’s latest one-woman show called Stages.
The show sees Lorna on stage alongside her Musical Director on piano, Chris Denny. Stages begins its journey in Lorna’s childhood years in Illinois and her parent’s initial disapproval of her having any thoughts of a singing career. Her opening number of “There’s No Business Like Show Business / A Glamourous Night” instantly proved that age hasn’t dampened those soaring soprano vocals and Lorna immediately had the audience (sprinkled with some familiar showbiz faces) enthralled.
The show, directed by Barry Kleinbort, was littered with songs written by some of the most famous names in music, such as Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Kander & Ebb, etc. What stood out for me though was many of the songs were not the usual fare that you would usually hear in this type of show. Each song had been perfectly curated to fit Lorna’s life story, both on-stage and off, with each having a specific personal meaning to her.
The singing career of Lorna Dallas really began when she won a singing contest whilst still in high school. With 20,000 contestants participating, that first showed the pedigree that she had and which would provide the initial foundation for the lengthy career that was to follow.
Songs such as “Blues In The Night” (by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer) and Cole Porter’s “Never Give Anything Away” (with additional lyrics by show director Barry Kleinbort) continued Lorna’s journey. Songs were interjected by fascinating stories and anecdotes, many amusing but with some striking a more personal note. “Poor Little Hollywood Star / At The Crossroads” was another song for Lorna to display her vocal skills, and it was here that she impressively proved that she could still hold a note.
There is certainly an eclectic mix of song choices in Stages, but it was obvious that much thought had gone into their selection. I suppose none more so that Jerome Kern and P.G. Wodehouse’s song “London, Dear Old London” from their 1922 musical comedy The Cabaret Girl. This fitted well with Lorna’s 2-year stint in Show Boat starring alongside Cleo Laine, and a time that she fell in love with this great city.
The highlight of the evening for me had to be Lorna’s performance of Larry Grossman & Hal Hackaday’s “Empty”. It was a stunning rendition of such a beautiful song; unbelievably, the song was cut prior to the opening of the 1970 Broadway show Minnie’s Boys. Lorna also sang one of my personal favourites, “Teach Me Tonight”, written by Gene de Paul and Sammy Cahn. Whilst the song was written in 1953 (well before I was born!), Lorna’s interpretation still feels fresh – and it also provided the opportunity to shine the light on Chris Denny’s keyboard skills with a lovely solo spot.
The raw emotions of the evening came to the fore with Ivor Novello & Christopher Hassall’s “My Dearest Dear”. The song has a deep personal meaning for Lorna and it left a deep imprint on the hearts of the audience as well. It was a special moment of the evening.
The evening ended with Anthony Newley & Herbert Kkretzmer’s “If All The World’s A Stage”. It was a perfect way to round off a wonderful journey through time. From a small town in Illinois, to shows such as The King And I and even a Royal Variety Performance in front of Her Majesty, the Queen Mother, Lorna Dallas has come a long way. For me it was as much about the personal tales used to segue the song choices as it was the actual songs being performed; but putting them together lead to perfect combination of music and chat.
The fact that Lorna can continue to deliver shows like Stages to sell out audiences, and importantly provide a fresh interpretation on songs that go back to the early decades of the 20th century, is proof of her pedigree and staying power – the likes of which is such a rare commodity in the 21st century.