Rebecca Luker Sings Jerome Kern
The Broadway star's new show at 54 Below proves to be the perfect match of singer and songwriter.
Luker is no stranger to Kern -- she first wowed New York audiences in Music in the Air and had perhaps her greatest Great White Way triumph as Magnolia in Harold Prince's production of Show Boat -- yet this is the first cabaret evening she has offered only consisting of his music.
Her warm soprano, which has added depth these days, fits Kern's lilting melodies like a proverbial glove, and these timeless tunes are beautifully augmented by pianist Joseph Thalken's arrangements and Dick Scarpola's fine work on bass.
Equally important, Luker proves just as adept at conveying the varied sentiments in the lyrics of Kern's many writing partners, including those who aimed for comedy. Whether she's tackling the tough-talking gal of Otto Harbach's "I'll Be Hard to Handle," the slightly risque tale told in "Saturday Night" by Herbert Reynolds, or the not-so-gentle sarcasm of actress Irene Franklin's "My Husband's First Wife," Luker hits her target.
While one doesn't necessarily think of Luker as a classic torch singer, she brings out all the pahos in two of Kern's greatest creations, "Why Was I Born?" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," as well as the worldly-wise melancholy embodied in Dorothy FIelds' beautiful "April Fooled Me," which the brilliant lyricist set to a Kern melody that was discovered after his death in 1945.
Still, the show's greatest highlights are Kern's ultra-romantic songs, which could make even the hardest-hearted person on the planet melt instantly: "Bill" (with P.G. Wodehouse's original lyrics), Oscar Hammerstein's "The Song Is You" and "The Folks Who Live on the Hill," and Johnny Mercer's "I'm Old Fashioned" are presented plainly yet stunningly. Each song is a simple valentine, an expression of devotion and adoration that one longs to hear over and over.