Rebecca Luker Sings Jerome Kern
By Brian Scott Lipton • Jul 7, 2012 • New York City
This may not exactly be a surprising statement, but Rebecca Luker Sings Jerome
Kern are five of the most beautiful words in the English language, as the Broadway veteran proves beyond any doubt with her gorgeous new show playing a two-night run at 54 Below.
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.
Best of all, her renditions of Kern's two finest love songs, "The Way You
Look Tonight" and "All the Things You Are" might even prompt you to grab the
hand of the person sitting at your table -- whether you've met them before or