Director: Barry Kleinbort
Musical Director: Christopher Denny
While thought of as an American musical theatre cabaret performer, Lorna Dallas has made London her home since 1971, when she starred in a revival of Jerome Kern’s Show Boat in the West End that ran for a then record-breaking 909 performances.
Her latest cabaret show, Glamorous Nights and Rainy Days, conceived with director Barry Kleinbort and Christopher Denny, evokes the damp-but-glitzy image of both the West End and Broadway, from which she plucks a mix of showtunes familiar and unfamiliar from nearly a century of the genre.
The first, and earliest, of these numbers is Ivor Novello composition Glamorous Night, from the 1935 musical of the same name written with lyricist Christopher Hassall. It’s a gentle start to proceedings, even if the song is not particularly memorable.
Dallas is strongest when she has an emotional connection to the material, and there is a sense that the order of songs and the patter between has been carefully planned to explain the connections as succinctly as possible. Sometimes the links work on multiple levels; a lovely medley of My Big Best Shoes from Sandy Wilson’s Valmouth and Put on Your Sunday Clothes from Hello, Dolly! works not only because of the thematic costume links between the two songs, but because the former was sung in the West End production by Cleo Laine, Dallas’s friend and costar from Show Boat, while Dallas played Irene Molloy opposite Danny La Rue’s Dolly Levi in the 1983 West End run of the latter.
Other numbers are hardy standards of the cabaret scene, from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Pure Imagination to I Have Dreamed from The King and I. Dallas treats these and the more unfamiliar numbers with equal reverence, the clarity of her soprano voice inviting us to revel in the lyrical beauty of each number.
With the recent passing of Stephen Sondheim, it feels obligatory to include numbers from the composer in any concert of this ilk. Dallas includes In Buddy’s Eyes from Follies, partly in reference to her singing the number in 2015’s Hey, Old Friends concert at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, an event which Dallas alludes to several times throughout the evening. But that is preceded by a more eclectic choice, from the songs which Sondheim wrote for the 1990 film of Dick Tracy.
One might have thought that either Sooner or Later or What Can You Lose? would be the best match for Dallas’s warm vocal style, but instead, she opts to apply that to a beautifully rearranged version of Back in Business. With its lyrics about embracing the good times ahead and saying goodbye to the blues (“Back to normal, back to usual / Let the fun resume / No more doom and gloom / No more bust, just boom!”) the song becomes an anthem of post-lockdown reawakening.
But there is a sense that there is another, more personal, meaning for Dallas as well. That Drury Lane performance seems to have revitalised her love for performance after losing her husband Garry, and brought her back into the business. Her love for him is encapsulated in a new number, In My Dreams, specially written for Dallas by Amanda McBroom and Ann Hampton Callaway, which slots easily in amongst the other songs in the evening.
It is not the only song to receive a première in the evening, although others’ claims are much more tenuous. For example, Here’s That Rainy Day, originally from Broadway flop Carnival in Flanders, has since become a standard recorded by luminaries from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald, but Dallas presents it here in its “original form”, reintroducing some elements that tie back into the musical’s plot. It’s an interesting take, but adds little to the song.
Perhaps the highlight of the whole evening is a wonderful rendition of George and Ira Gershwin’s By Strauss, a celebration of classical music at the expense of more modern fads. Kleinbort has tweaked some of the lyrics to make sideswipes to musical styles (and in the case of Hamilton, an entire musical) but at its heart, the number is more about celebrating one’s joy of music rather than denigrating any others. In that regard, it’s a perfect fit for Dallas, who is truly back in business.
Continues until 5 April 2022