In 2017, American born West End favorite, Lorna Dallas, returned to the cabaret world after a twenty-year hiatus. The reviewers were unanimous and unstinting in their praise. Cabaret Scenes raved it was “truly a once in a lifetime event not to be missed“. Rex Reed of the Observer also chimed in that the night had “the kind of inspired singing that is as rare as a pink unicorn in MGM Technicolor“.
This season, Lorna Dallas returns to Crazy Coqs with a sparkling new show, Stages, devised by her two longtime collaborators, musical director Christopher Denny and director Barry Kleinbort.
Lorna Dallas recently took time out to answer a few questions that we put to her:
Q: You were born in Carrier Mills, Illinois. Can you tell us about your time growing up there?
Lorna: Carrier Mills, in southern Illinois, had a population of 2000… all very loving and caring souls… everyone knew everyone! …and it was a very embracing and caring community. Though I have been away for a long time, there are still people I hear from there who are so loyal and sweet… keeping me grounded… and it makes me feel that I am “always home” even though I live and work on both sides of the Atlantic! We lived on Highway 45… and the world and his brother drove along that highway across the US… so as a kid, I saw the world pass by my house!
Q: How was touring with the Metropolitan Opera National Company?
Lorna: An infinite adventure! It was following my graduation from Indiana University… a HUGE step in the world! It was a great way of seeing the US… and that was a truly revolutionary company! We brought opera to parts of the US that wouldn’t have had that experience otherwise. It was eye-opening to perform in some places that you wouldn’t think would “go” for opera… but they were the most enthusiastic! I loved that we worked with theater directors, like Jose Quintero. He made us look at the lyrics… and not just concentrate on sound or vocal production. I watched him working through the preparation for the next day of staging… he had the pianist play the music… and he listened and moved (like a panther!) with the music only… as he said it “dictated” what should be done onstage… and it was hypnotic! I learned so much from that. He was so right… the music dictates… and Puccini in particular. Truly a life lesson to have that experience. We were a groundbreaking company and I was/am so proud to have been a part of it.
Q: What were the overriding decisions for you to focus on musical theatre and not opera?
Lorna: I was blessed to have the most incredible teachers/mentors in my life. First of all, I idolized my older sister Ellen whom I lovingly called “Sissy”… she had the most beautiful voice and I tried to imitate her… and the music in our household was mainly show tunes… and then, Virginia MacWatters at Indiana University guided me into opera… but always said, “the voice isn’t everything”… and encouraged my musical theatre cravings as well. Summer Stock solidified those ravings… and the rest, as they say, “is history”. It truly feels that I can express myself more through the music of the theatre and the Great American Songbook. I feel I can communicate this material in my own personal way and it is thrilling for me. If I enjoy it, hopefully, the audience will too! The day I don’t enjoyi it, then I’ll quit. But I don’t think that is on the horizon! I feel like a kid when I’m singing!
Q: Following your musical theatre dream, you came to London in 1971, starring as Magnolia in SHOW BOAT with Dame Cleo Laine at the Adelphi Theatre. Do you have a favourite memory from that time?
Lorna: I have tons of wonderful memories from that time! First of all, I had so fallen in love with London… I felt at home here… the civility of the people… the cultural riches… Covent Garden with its unique character… coming out of the theatre at night and walking through that was like stepping back into another lifetime or that beautiful film.
Then, to work with such a fabulous international cast in SHOW BOAT… but, most of all, to work with the divine Dame Cleo Laine! Oh my God! I learned so much from that woman… the way to treat a lyric, the grace and dignity… and the sheer artistry to observe up close and personal… and to be blessed with her enduring and endearing friendship… and also that of her late husband, Sir John Dankworth. They introduced me to the world of jazz… whoopee! How fab is that?
My favourite moment in the show was the kitchen scene… singing a duet with Cleo of CAN’T HELP LOVIN’ DAT MAN”. Our dialogue and that scene just felt so real and honest… and loving. Proof of that was when they filmed portions of SHOW BOAT for the Tony Awards in New York (we were recognized as the outstanding international production in 1972) and that scene, in particular, was a highlight shown on TV all around the world. I still sing with Cleo… 91, she is!… and absolutely amazing!
Because I had fallen in love with London and stayed… I eventually met the man of my dreams, Garry Brown… British… and married him on Valentine’s Day in 1982. If I hadn’t stayed in London, my life would not have been complete…
So, “London, dear old London”… you are truly special to me in more ways than one!
Q: Starring in many musical theatre productions in the UK… Which would be your top 3 highlights that stand out?
Lorna: I loved HELLO DOLLY!… working with Danny La Rue as Dolly… yes! Dolly! He was the most generous and sensitive man… and so wanted to do that role for so long… and was so truthful and interesting in the role. I played Mrs Molloy… as Danny had asked for me. We started at the Birmingham Rep and came into the Prince of Wales. It was also at the time that I got married… so, it was a “very good year!”. I also was asked to sing in the Royal Variety Performance at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane… around that time.
I also enjoyed KING AND I… but for a different reason – I had been asked to be the new Mrs Anna in a big revival of the show with the original King on Broadway, Yul Brynner… flown to New York on Concorde to meet him… but I had met the man of my dreams in the UK… so I turned down the “King” and said Yes to my Prince for life, Garry. When I did do KING AND I at Leicester Theatre with Paul Kerryson, I felt so fulfilled… and loved working with Paul!
I also enjoyed doing the European premiere of CLOSER THAN EVER in Manchester… the music of Maltby and Shire. Ah, also working with the wonderful Julia Sutton in SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM…
I could go on and on!
Q: Your film career includes United 93 – Can you tell us about your experience of being a part of the film?
Lorna: AWESOME! Paul Greengrass was absolutely the right director for this sensitive film. He had the documentary experience… and was so caring about the families of the heroes on board…
It was a grueling 12 weeks of filming at Pinewood. We were given dossiers about the persons we portrayed in the film. I was so fortunate to meet Doris, the mother of Linda Gronlund. I also spoke with her sister Elsa. We spent endless hours on the phone… and I learned so much about Linda. I was given the rare privilege of hearing the last phone call Linda made from the plane… and it was gut-wrenching. Throughout all the filming, I was so concerned and felt such an obligation to the family to portray/convey Linda as they felt she should be… a huge responsibility for all the cast. On the very last day, I was concerned that perhaps Linda’s phone call wouldn’t be filmed as so many had been. On the last day of filming, Paul called for everyone to take a break, get out of their costumes and have lunch… then said, “except Lorna” …well, an hour later… on the VERY LAST TAKE ON THE PLANE… that phone call was filmed! My heart was pounding out of my chest! Two takes were spoiled by a lighting glitch… but the third one nailed it! The rest of the cast had gathered by the monitors in the studio watching…and greeted me with applause as I came off the set. I hope I did Linda proud…
Another moment to remember was the first official screening of the film for the Tribeca Film Festival in New York… the families were there… and when the last moment of the film was shown, their audible cries from the cinema audience were chilling. I was blessed to go to the Cannes Film Festival for the screening there… and the 7-minute ovation afterwards was mind-blowing! Paul Greengrass is a genius and a caring director! Oh yes! I went with Doris Gronlund to the White House to present the film for President Bush. He was crying as was Laura Bush. We had dinner afterwards… a buffet laid out in the White House… sort of Tex-Mex… and I was ushered to a table for 6… the seat empty next to me… then suddenly, “Dubya” sat down and was totally engaged in conversing with me! He admired a small gold heart pin with the number 14 filled with diamonds on my jacket and enquired about it. When I told him it was a gift from my husband for our anniversary (Valentine’s Day), he asked “How many years?” When I told him it was at that time 27, he said, “Is he a cheapskate to give you only 14 diamonds?” We laughed… then his last words after an enthralling conversation at the table: “You tell ‘Mr 14’ that he should give you more diamonds!” So, after that, Garry became known as “Mr 14”!
I am supremely proud to have been a part of that film…
Hopefully, it will be a history lesson for generations to come about that awful tragedy that changed the whole world.
Q: Stage or film – pros and cons for you?
Lorna: I love the immediacy of the stage… being able to communicate “one on one ”… and always have the feeling that each and every night is an opening night… it IS for the audience… so it is a challenge to me as an artist to make it one! I love that challenge!
Film? Well, you get several chances to get it right… but then it is there to view for a long time… and you look back and think, “I could have done that better!”
Don’t get me wrong! I would love to do more films! Hey, Mr Producer…!
The stage today… well, I would love to do straight roles too… but people do think of me only as a singer… wrong!
Q: Stepping forward to 2019 – you return to Crazy Coqs with a new show, “STAGES”. What can you tell us about this show?
Lorna: Oh, I am so proud of this show! It is so full of theatrical gems… old and new songs… stories that many have not heard… and it is “peeling away” more layers in a life both on the boards and off. I love the song choices as they are not only vocally challenging but they also mold together to tell my story… and I have had a “lot of livin to do… and still have!” I think the songs in the show cover such a wide range that all ages will find something in there of relevance. It is a treasure trove!
Q: What is at the heart of the music in the show?
Lorna: It has songs which relate to my life… and indeed to anyone who has been in love, found someone, lost someone… and felt such loving spirits to hold them up and inspire them to “carry on” and live life! It was Garry’s motto and mine too! I promise you a “Happy Ending” as Jerry Herman wrote. The songs and the stories literally turn on a dime… you don’t know what to expect from one to another! If you cry one moment, you’re gonna laugh the next!
Q: Why should everyone get along to see the show?
Lorna: The show is a true “journey”… and I am blessed to have my invaluable “Team Dallas” with me… my director, Barry Kleinbort and my musical director, Chris Denny from New York. The show is direct from New York’s famous Birdland Theater… and now in London!
Crazy Coqs is my favourite venue… great room… excellent staff… and I LOVE singing there! This show is 70 minutes of great songs… an interesting story line… and a lady who just loves to sing…sing…sing…and entertain! Besides, it is always great fun to meet new people…perhaps new friends…and to be with old friends too! What more can you ask? I am back in the city I love so much! London!!!!!
LORNA DALLAS: STAGES
6th March 2019