On Monday night, February 11th at The Birdland Theater, 315 W. 44th St., NYC, my guest and I had the privilege of being introduced to the great native talent and consummate singing skills of Lorna Dallas. Her cabaret showcase was entitled “STAGES” and a fitting name it is to her recollections of her career of several decades on the London stages of the West End. Her generous presentation, which lasted nearly ninety-minutes that seemed to fly by in half that time has been shaped with her life’s story input, along with Musical Director and superb pianist, Christopher Denny, and Director, and briefly featured songwriter in this evening, Barry Kleinbort. Both of Ms. Dallas’ collaborators have considerable awards and accolades of their own. The ‘Team Dallas”, as she refers to them, make a champion item indeed!
Dallas, not a native of Texas, but rather Southern Illinois, was seventeen when she won a prestigious singing contest at New York’s Town Hall, which led to her being accepted to Indiana University, whose Musical Department rivals Juilliard in its reputation of rigorous training in all musical skills.
All I can say, is that the training she received as a youth has held her in superb form. Most female singers of the soprano ranges, lose their luster and flexibility more often than not, sometime in their fifth decade. I can merely conjecture from her biography that Ms. Dallas waved that decade goodbye some time ago, but you would never know it by the sounds she emits in a seemingly effortless fashion.
She commences this program with a cleverly woven amalgam of Sondheim’s ” “Glamorous Life” with Berlin’s immortal paean to this business of show, ”There’s No Business Like Show Business” (and believe me, there AIN’T!). Immediately upon the completion of that first medley, I turned to my cabaret companion and whispered: ” Authority!” She nodded in enthusiastic agreement and we were off for the remainder of the evening, simply enthralled with this lovely being of perfect pitch and pitch perfect communication of whatever virtues the songs she would sing had to offer. The combination of being quite familiar with much of the program and stranger to at least half of it made the musical adventure all the more engaging. “I Wish It So” from Marc Blitzstein’s, ”Juno” (musical from the O’Casey),”All I Need Is One Good Break”, an early offering of Kander and Ebb’s,”Blues In The Night” by Arlen and Mercer, Porter’s “Never Give Anything Away” from “Can-Can” were all delivered as though I’d never heard them before, which was hardly the case. What was the case? In terms of old tunes new to my ears was, “London, Dear Old London”, a 1922 chestnut of Kern’s and P.G. Wodehouse and later “My Dearest Dear” by British tunesmiths Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassell. It became apparent that Ms. Dallas during her several command performances before the Royal Family has become a foremost interpreter of England’s songwriters of the 30’s, as well as frankly, any song she wishes to evoke and adorn, without casting attention to the adornment.
One spectacular offering, however, could not escape her displaying her extraordinary technique in a highly amusing manner. Among the many successful revivals in which she has starred on the West End, from “Showboat”, “The King and I”, “Hello Dolly”, and more, she had the role of the lead soprano of Hajj’s daughter in “Kismet” who, along with the Caliph sings the sumptuous duet, “Stranger In Paradise” (actually a theme of Alexander Borodin’s Polevetsian Dance #2). This, of course, has been a juke box hit since 1953. Wellllll, Ms. Dallas displays this timeless melody, initially as first intended in the show, all lyrics at its finest, .Then, as she explained, she was also engaged at the time to sing a souped-up jazzy version of the song at a popular night club after her curtain came down at 10:30. Then, in addition, in perfect German, for a recording session she agreed to do in Cologne. As she drifts from one musical dimension of this music to another and another and back again, it was like hearing the Borodin theme filtered through “Back to The Future” and back! All, done with extraordinary technique, making it all the more amusing.
One thing more that’s a must mention: The interweaving of the Arlen-Harburg classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, with a song co-written by Kleinbort and Joseph Thalken, from 2005, called “Was”. The latter songs serves in a re-telling of the Frank Baum tale and with Ms. Dallas’ rendering, the fact that the new song held up well along The Garland landmark, is a tribute to the virtues of all involved.
I’m ashamed to write that I’d not known of Lorna Dallas until this week. I entreat all readers of this notice to explore her art in as many ways that you can. I know that I shall not forget who she is, and what she can do, and rejoice!
All photos: Kevin Alvey
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