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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Stormy Weather

You were an Afro-disiac! —Kay Thompson to Lena Horne <
Stormy Weather
Leslie Uggams in Stormy Weather
Stormy Weather breaks on the stage of the Pasadena Playhouse with a promising sunny nearly-sold-out run and, judging from the prominent New Yorkers in the opening night audience, the prospect of an electrical storm on the Great White Way. It's the first in Artistic Director Sheldon Epps' season: Women: The Heart and Soul of the Theatre.

Conceived and written by Sharleen Cooper Cohen and suggested by the autobiography of Lena Horne, it traces the life of that amazing performer in story and song, driven by the powerful performance and rich voice of Leslie Uggams as Lena. The score is a smorgasborg of the wonderful songs of the 1930s-1980s from "Deed I Do" which introduces Young Lena, played with sinous sizzling magnetism by Nikki Crawford, to "Lush Life" and "Yesterday When I Was Young," to the stunning finale, Lena's signature song "Stormy Weather."

Full value to the score which includes classics by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart. More is given by the cast as directed by Michael Bush who astutely paints the emotional lives of the characters as well as skillfully segueing into the musical numbers.

Cohen begins her adaptation on the eve of Lena's anticipated one-woman show Lena Horne: The Lady and her Music which opened on Broadway in 1981. Lena is portrayed as withdrawn and depressive. Her daughter sneaks in old friend Kay Thompson, played with impeccable timing and comic flair by Dee Hoty. As Lena takes a trip down the dark side of Memory Lane, Kay urges her to look on the sunny side of the street.

The memories begin with the pain of her parents' divorce. Powerfully-voiced Cleavant Derricks plays her father Teddy and Yvette Cason her mother Edna.

A memory that won't die is that of Lena's white husband, musical arranger Lennie Hayton, played by Robert Torti, whose chiseled handsomeness looks amazingly like the real Lennie. A fine actor, Torti sells his songs with fierce charm, particularly "Come Rain or Come Shine.".

The dazzling tapdancing of Phillip Attmore and Wilkie Ferguson is a visual delight, as is the exotic "Push Da Button" from Jamaica performed by Young Lena and the chorus. Randy Skinner's choreography is implemented by the orchestrations of Gordon Goodwin, who occasionally uses Lennie Hayton's own arrangement, as in "Stardust", sung by Jordan Barbour who effectively projects Lena's troubled son Teddy. Kevin Morrow as Billy Straymore brings in a welcome infusion of scat jazz, as does Uggams in "Honeysuckle Rose".

Martin Pakledinaz's opulent costumes are designed for Uggams more than Horne but are show-stoppers in their own right. This is almost as much Uggams's show as Horne's. Although Uggams and Crawford both try to suggest Horne, Crawford's uses some facial and physical mannerisms which are more imitation than essence and are actually a distraction. Both actresses do better when they use their considerable intuitive skills to sense the soul of the artist and her songs. It's hard to cherry pick from such a smorgasbord but Uggams' "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" and Crawford's "Just Once" are stand-outs.

The show is too long, particularly the first act. Horne's amazing life, both as a performer, and a civil rights pioneer, who often sacrificed her family life for those causes, is the kind of struggle that makes dynamic theater and it's easy to see why book writer Cohen tried to pack everything in. Skillful chiseling is in order and this is too fabulous a show for it not to happen!

Stormy Weather
Conceived and written by Sharleen Cooper Cohen, suggested by the biography Lena Horne, Entertainer
Director: Michael Bush
Choreography: Randy Skinner
Orchestrations: Gordon Goodwin
Music Direction/Conductor: Linda Twine
Cast: Leslie Uggams (Lena Horne), Nikki Crawford (Young Lena), Robert Torti (Lennie Hayton), Dee Hoty (Kay Thompson), Kevyn Morrow (Billy Strayhorn), Phillip Attmore (Jivin' Jones, Louis Jones), Jordan Barbour (Teddy Jones), Yvette Cason (Edna Horne/Ruby/Church Lady), Cleavant Derricks (Teddy Horne, Sr.), Wilkie Ferguson (Aiken Bones/Medgar Evers/Avon Long), Ashley Greene, Cheri McKenzie (Child Gail/Amy Lumet), Bruce Katzman (L.B. Mayer, Barney Josephson, Perry Como, others), Kevyn Morrow (Billy Strayhorn), Jeffrey Rockwell (Arthur Freed, Owney Maden, others), Robert Torti (Lennie Hayton), Toni Trucks (Gail Jones Lumet/Amanda Gerrard, others), Diane Vincent (Loreen Hall, others)
Scenic Design: James Noone
Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz
Lighting Design: Paul Gallo
Sound Design: Lewis Mead
Production Stage Manager: Lurie Horns Pfeffer
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: January 21-March 1, 2009
Where: The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. Reservations: (626) 356-7529
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on January 30. Musical Numbers (Note: Changes were made from this program list. The production is still in progress.)
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Love / Lena
  • I Want To Be Happy /Lena
  • That Old Feeling / Lennie, Lena
  • Deed I Do /Young Lena, Edna
  • Let Me Sing /Billy Strayhorne, Lennie, Ted, Teddy
  • Stardust /Teddy
  • There'll Be Some Changes Made / Lena, Young Lena
  • You Let Me Down / Lena, Kay
  • Lush Life /Billy
  • Life's Full of Consequence/ Young Lena, Bones, Jones
  • How Deep Is The Ocean /Billy, Lennie, Kay
  • Come Rain or Come Shine / Lena
  • Reprise: Come Rain or Come Shine /Lennie
  • The Lady Is A Tramp /Lena, Young Lena, Company
Act Two
  • Push Da Button /Young Lena, Bones, Jones
  • Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man /Lena, Young Lena
  • Lover, Come Back To Me /Billy
  • Honeysuckle Rose / Lena
  • Let It Shine /Company
  • Yesterday When I Was Young /Lena
  • Love Me or Leave Me /Young Lena
  • Stormy Weather /Lena
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