Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project starring Mary Wilson

Due to a disjointed story light on insight, Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project was often too breezy and fluffy; however, the music saved the show, as Lena Horne’s songs were performed by Mary Wilson of The Supremes fame, and a polar-cool three-piece band.

Mary Wilson
Mary Wilson

The show draws on James Gavin’s biography of Lena Horne, Stormy Weather, after the song she made famous. Based around Gavin’s live narration, The Lena Horne Project promis “the life and career of Hollywood’s first African-American goddess” and — my main interest in the piece — her role in the civil rights movement. The narrative used undefined acronyms, activist name-dropping, vague allusions, and was bookended by photo montages of unexplained significance. I came away feeling disappointed that the show didn’t make a more considered attempt to share US historical knowledge with an Australian audience.

Fortunately, there wasn’t gloom and misery everywhere. Mary Wilson’s interpretations of Lena Horne’s songs shone as brightly as her many costume changes. From mournful low notes to hopeful highs, Wilson showed the packed house that old rocking chair ain’t gonna get her.  A seemingly effortless technique was highlighted by some impressive unamplified moments.

Pianist and musical director Larry Dunlap, a veteran of 31 years with Cleo Lane, steered his part of the project skillfully, with arrangements always complementing Wilson’s vocals. In this mood-setting turn he was aided by two Melbourne performers, Daniel Farrugia conjuring rain on windows with drum brushes and Frank Di Sario’s evocative bass.

While I think I’ll need to find the book if I want the Lena Horne story, its soundtrack was very enjoyable.


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