Late on Friday night, I witnessed a “cabaret festival” moment: Mary Wilson (not Diana Ross, not Florence Ballard, the other Supreme) singing ‘Stop, in the Name of Love’ with Kate Ceberano and Eden Espinoza as her backup singers, accompanied by Mark Nadler and an adoring crowd in the Backstage Club. For any music lover – theatrical or otherwise, this is a combination that is unimaginable and part of the magic of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
So with this moment in mind, my expectations of Mary Wilson’s show, Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project were high.
For cabaret, the format is unexpected. The production is primarily a lecture in the history of Lena Horne and her legacy as a trail blazer as the first African American film goddess and a fierce advocate for civil rights, and the lesson is fascinating. New York author, journalist and biographer, James Gavin is the creator and narrator, giving anecdotes and insight from his book interspersed with film footage and photography.
Mary Wilson appears for approximately seven numbers, each with a different gown and wig… demonstrating her true diva power. There is no doubt that Wilson is a legend in her own right and still “has it” when it comes to bluesy, smokey vocals and a sassy sensibility on stage. The signature number, ‘Stormy Weather’ is a welcome highlight.
It was disappointing that this legendary diva read three of the songs from sheet music (especially considering she has been touring this show for a year) and there was minimal interaction with the audience. What we really craved was insight into the relationship that one African American superstar has with another; how did Lena Horne influence Mary Wilson’s life and career? It is also incongruous to be talking about Horne’s struggle to align with the common African American people and shake off her “glamorous” barriers to support the civil rights movement when Wilson seems to spend more time in wardrobe than on the stage.
Musical Director, Larry Dunlap on keys (a reputable jazz musician himself from California) leads Paul Jankovic on bass and Yuri Markov on drums, a common example of the stellar Adelaide musicians supporting all of the cabaret acts.
As a study of Lena Horne’s legacy, this is a unique piece of theatre. As a showcase of a diva and an opportunity to see an original Supreme on stage, The Lena Horne Project leaves the audience looking for more.
Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project was at the 2012 Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 9 — 10 June. For more information visit www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au.