Motown royalty comes to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival as former Supremes member Mary Wilson performs in Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project.
Based on the celebrated biography of the same name by James Gavin, Stormy Weather follows the life and career of African-American singer, entertainer and civil rights activist, Lena Horne. The performance was certainly not a standard tribute nor cabaret show, as it was a combination of anecdotes and excerpts as shared by Gavin, as well as Mary Wilson's own renditions of Horne's songs.
As well as the various musical interludes, rare and original audio visual clips also interspersed the dialogue. Wilson and the accompanying Larry Dunlap Trio performed many well known classics from Horne's repertoire, including a melancholic 'Stormy Weather' and poignant rendition of 'Bein' Green' – a perfect summation of Lena's struggle as an activist for African-American rights.
Wilson does not impersonate Horne at all, instead performing the songs as her own. Even without her many extravagant gowns, Wilson effortlessly stole the show with her commanding stage presence. It was the encore 'The Lady is a Tramp' that truly showcased her ability, Wilson exhibiting a genuine sense of enjoyment and zest for the first time. While it is obvious that Wilson still reigns supreme, losing her place in the script and her occasional reliance upon sheet music detracted from her performance.
The show did seem to be unbalanced in terms of dialogue and music, with Mary Wilson performing little more than five times. James Gavin certainly provided an insightful account of Horne's colourful life, but Wilson's relationship and memories of Horne and therefore relevance to the show remained relatively unexplained. It is hard to refrain from concluding that Wilson's star power was simply a marketing tool for what could otherwise be called a lecture.
Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project was certainly a captivating and informative account of an American icon. It is a shame that such a legend as Mary Wilson was given little opportunity to showcase her talent, and it is this that leaves the audience wanting more.
2012 Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: 9 – 10 June, 2012
Tickets: $69.90 – $49.90