New York Observer

Arts & Entertainment

On The Town With Rex ReedWelcome Back! A Singer, A Songwriter
by Rex Reed

An American sopranoís homecoming:Lorna Dallas is at the FireBird Cafť.

A Singer, A Songwriter

Nighthawks are well advised to head for the FireBird Cafe, where Lorna Dallas is performing an act devoted to the seldom-heard songs of Jerome Kern and Ivor Novello that is causing something of a cabaret sensation. The American soprano traveled to London to play Magnolia in a lavishly praised production of Kernís masterpiece Show Boat in 1971, married an Englishman, and stayed for 25 years. Now sheís home again, washed in on a tidal wave of rave reviews for this act, which combines Kernís gorgeous songs of precision, erudition and melodic coherence with the lilting, witty and lovely songs of Novello, whose operettas were among the most popular attractions in England in the 30ís and 40ís. Itís a thrilling experience to hear a trained voice dazzling in its control and range yet resistant to the stereotypical coldness usually associated with trilling sopranos who get the notes right but not the nuances. Beautiful and humorous, Ms. Dallas has a voice that wraps itself around theatrical gems with the warmth of a mink stole.

Mr. Novelloís songs range from subjects as varied as the weak, meek, quaint and faint-with-restraint unemotional techniques of "An Englishman in Love" (all that toast with marmalade, you know, wreaks havoc on a manís libido) to the way Napoleon met his real Waterloo in the arms of "Josephine." From the Kern catalogue, there is "Bill," which Cleo Laine sang in that illustrious 1971 production of Show Boat, as well as the extraordinarily moving "The Last Time I Saw Paris," which captures the devastated emotions of Kern and his collaborator Oscar Hammerstein when they heard the news that Paris had fallen to the Germans in 1940. Despite these priceless, age-resistant treasures, Ms. Dallas nevertheless focuses on lesser-known Kern songs like "In the Heart of the Dark" and the gorgeous "Once in a Blue Moon," one of the great Mabel Mercerís most requested numbers from the past.

But whether sheís investigating the similarities or the differences between these two geniuses, Ms. Dallas transports her audience to an earlier, more graceful and more romantic period of songwriting before head mikes, electric guitars and earplugs. With the able assistance of Christopher Denny on piano and Bob Renino on bass, the talented and luminous Ms. Dallas calls this polished evening of class "Glamorous Night," and it more than lives up to the title.

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