- CHARITY BENEFIT
Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
October 7, 2012
Loni Ackerman, a Broadway veteran who starred in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, Cats, and Sunset Boulevard on Broadway and the road, retired from the musical stage some years ago when she got married and raised two sons. Her powerful voice still intact, last February she did Next to AbNormal, at the Metropolitan Room, and last summer she was part of the extraordinary cast of theatrical stars at the O’Neill Center in Connecticut in a tribute to Johnny Mercer sponsored by the Johnny Mercer Foundation. Now, under the masterful direction of Barry Kleinbort (who staged the Mercer tribute) and accompanied by the superb musicianship of Paul Greenwood, her music director, Tom Hubbard on bass, and young Jeremy Clayton on reeds, Ackerman brings her autobiographical show to the Metropolitan Room again.
Ackerman opens singing an animated version of “Shine on My Shoes,” including the rarely sung verse, confessing her adoration of Fred Astaire movies (seen on TV) and learning Broadway adult songs from her family’s collection of LP albums before she was twelve. Her parents were well connected and it was common for the famous of politics and show business to be performing in her living room (including John F. Kennedy, Leonard Bernstein, the Black Panthers, Dorothy Fields, Cy Coleman, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon). She connects the verse to “Sentimental Journey” to “Journey to the Past,” a sweet Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens song from the cartoon feature Anastasia. The verse of “All the Things You Are” links with a stirringly romantic rendition of “My Romance.”
At age seven she wanted to be a ballerina and was enrolled in the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School but she was a heavy child and was assigned featured animal roles. She tells a delicious anecdote about her teacher, the great Ballet Russe star Alexandra Danilova, criticizing her fall in class in a most extraordinary mime and message. Laughing at herself, she sings “The First Girl in the Second Row,” Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s great comic song from Look Ma, I’m Dancing.
One of the most dramatic highlights in Ackerman’s show is her pure version “Pink Taffeta Sample, Size 10,” cut from Sweet Charity which Dorothy Fields originally sang to her in her living room.
She flashes forward to 1971 when she is performing with Bobby Van and the rest of the stars in the pre-Broadway tryout in Philadelphia of No, No, Nanette produced by her mother. When Van learns that she is the only virgin in the company, he asks her why. She replies she is saving herself for her future husband. “But what if you never marry?” he queries her. One night in the Variety Club she notices an attractive male in Ari, also trying out in Philadelphia, eying her. Van pretends to flirt wildly with Ackerman and that gets the male to make the move. When she announces the next morning what happened that night, Van turned white and said “Your mother is going to kill me.” Later, what she thought was a long run romance; she learned the male considered an “out of town tryout.” Angrily, she sings the hard-boiled “Men” (Stan Daniels from So Long 174th Street) and immediately, sensitively sings “Blame It On My Youth” and “Where Am I Going.”
She goes to Paris for a change. She celebrates her love of France with David Yazbek’s “Here I Am” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels swinging the tongue twisting lyrics effortlessly. A Columbia executive puts her on a local TV show and gets her an assignment to sing the title song for a French film. She also wrote the English lyrics. The film turned out to be porn. Her song “Come Back, My Love” was belted out with self mockery. I don’t think she realized how her lyrics had such double meanings to the film which was titled It’s Better With Your Mouth Open.
Humorously, she mimics the dramatic gestures of the Lloyd Webber divas she has played: Evita, Norma, and Grisabella as she sings “Buenos Aires,” “New Way to Dream,” and a shattering “Memory.” She finishes with a simple “I Remember You” coupled with a real find, the title song from the movie Toys in the Attic (George Duning, Joe Sherman, and George David Weiss) which she learned from Jack Jones’ recording. The lyrics are heart-breaking, but afterwards there are funny exchanges about her musicians’ crushes on the female and male stars of the movie.
Her final numbers are “With You,” a stirring song by Maltby/Shire from Baby, and a return of “Journey to the Past,” this time with special meaningful lyrics by Kleinbort. Oh, yes, Ackerman’s encore is a wonderful, dramatic and meaningful version of James Taylor’s “Secrets of Life.”
You don’t often get to see an elegant mature woman do such an effective autobiographical show. Her voice is untarnished and she knows when to sing softly and when to do a full out belt. All singers, musicians and fans of good musical performances should see this show. Highly recommended!
Loni Ackerman’s Next To AbNormal repeats at the Metropolitan Room October 14, 21, and 29. All shows are at 7:00 P.M. The October 14th performance will be a benefit for the Actors Fund with a $25 cover. All other shows have a $20 cover and 2-drink minimum. The performance I attended was nearly sold out with several Broadway stars in the audience. For Reservations call 212-206-0440.