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Twelfth Night

Stormy Weather

Despite some great moments and performances, this still-evolving biomusical about Lena Horne is not worthy of its majestic subject.

By Los Angeles
Robert Torti, Kevyn Morrow, Leslie Uggams, Jordan Barbour,
and Cleavant Derricks in Stormy Weather
(© Kevin Berne)
Robert Torti, Kevyn Morrow, Leslie Uggams, Jordan Barbour,
and Cleavant Derricks in Stormy Weather
(© Kevin Berne)
The still-evolving and sometimes compelling biomusical Stormy Weather, now at the Pasadena Playhouse, is based on the remarkable life of pioneering African-American entertainer Lena Horne, who made that song one of her signature numbers. While the show contains some rousing production numbers and several delightful performances, Sharleen Cooper Cohen's script still needs much pruning and Michael Bush's direction is often sluggish.

As she begins her now-legendary Broadway concert in 1983, Horne (played alternately by a disappointingly understated Leslie Uggams and the commanding Nikki Crawford as her younger self) ponders her many life choices. She flashes back to her many tumultuous moments, including her marriage to a cold husband, bouts with racism, and separation from her infant son -- all the while confronting her demons with the support of her lifelong friend, the music arranger and performer Kay Thompson (a surprisingly cartoonish Dee Hoty). Unfortunately, the dialogue between these two characters is so quippy that it feels like we're watching an episode of The Golden Girls.

Luckily, despite the book's shortcomings, the score uses some of the best songs written in the 20th Century, and Crawford does justice to them -- and Horne -- with her remarkable renditions of such standards as "Push Da Button" (from Jamaica) and "Cant Help Lovin' Dat Man" (from Show Boat, which Horne was supposed to film for MGM before being replaced by Ava Gardner.)

The large supporting cast's standouts include the fine singer and actor Kevyn Morrow as composer Billy Stryhorn, who is both boisterous and tender in his book scenes, and tap dancing wizards Phillip Attmore and Wilkie Ferguson, who blow down the house with their routines during "Just One Of Those Things" and "Hooray For Hollywood." As Horne's loving second husband, the usually reliable Robert Torti shows off his lovely singing voice, but lacks chemistry with both Crawford and Uggams.

Costume designer Martin Pakledinaz does excellent work, filling the stage with snappy-looking tuxedos for the men; and there's one gold lame dress with a train as long as the Twentieth Century. But pretty clothes and pretty songs aside, Stormy Weather still needs some major reworking to be worthy of a talent as majestic as Lena Horne.


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