On A Clear Day: the Musical Vision of Burton Lane
By Linda Amiel Burns
Deborah Grace Winer, the Artistic Director of 92nd St Y’s Lyrics and Lyricist series, introduced David Loud who not only served as writer and host narrator,
but did all the arrangements, orchestrations and put together a marvelous program called “On a Clear Day: The Musical Vision of Burton Lane” the weekend of Feb. 12, 13, 14.
The singers were superb: Heidi Blickenstaff, Liz Callaway, James Clow, Joshua Henry, Michele Ragusa and special guest John Cullum who was the original lead in the musical “On a Clear Day.” David introduced his handpicked band of Steve Kenyon on woodwinds, Sarah Seiver on cello, Bill Ellison on bass, Bruce Doctor on drums and percussion and Andy Einhorn, pianist and Associate Music Director.
I was fortunate enough to know Burton Lane and always felt a special affinity for him and then I discovered that he was born on Feb. 2, 1912, the same day and year as my mother. Lynn Lane, his widow, was in the audience and David Loud acknowledged the help that she gave him for this concert.
Burton Lane was born Burton Levy and left school as a teenager to pursue a career as a song plugger. The Gershwin Brothers heard him play and become mentors and friends. Burton worked with many lyricists and collaborators over the years. In Hollywood he discovered an 11- year old singer named Frances Gumm, brought her to MGM, and played for her audition. The studio signed her and then gave her a new name……. Judy Garland.
The cast opened with a wonderful arrangement of “I Hear Music” (Lyrics: Frank Loesser) and “It’s Time For a Love Song” (Lyrics:
Alan Jay Lerner). Heidi & James did a great job on the song with one of the longest titles ever (Royal Wedding) “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life.” Michele Ragusa sang one of Lane’s first hits (lyrics by Harold Adamson) “Everything I Have Is Yours” and scored again with “Why Him” (Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner from Carmelina). Occasionally, the original sheet music appeared on the screen as in “Poor You” while Joshua sang the song from the edge of the stage (Lyrics Yip Harburg from film Ship Ahoy!). From a film called Some Like It Hot (not the Billy Wilder film) James sang a tender “The Lady’s In Love With You.” The first act closed with Liz Callaway singing Lane’s second Academy Award nominated song “Too Late Now.” (The first was “How About You?” with Ralph Freed from film Babes on Broadway.) It was a brilliant arrangement with bravura performances by the cast all singing different Lane songs together in counterpoint and harmony.
In the second act, we were treated to Liz Callaway singing “On A Clear Day” and “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” in her bell-like voice.
Heidi began quietly and built to a grand finish in “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” (Alan Jay Lerner- On a Clear Day) and from the same show, Joshua sang a strong “Come Back To Me.” John Cullum came on stage and talked about his time in On A Clear Day and that he had to learn the part in four days as Louis Jordan was fired. Also leading lady Barbara Harris, tended to improvise and not stick to the script. He sang “Melinda” and we all wanted more.
The last part of the show was devoted to his greatest hit with Yip Harburg, Finian’s Rainbow that has a remarkable score. “Old Devil Moon “ with Joshua & Michele, “Look To The Rainbow” Heidi, and
“If This Isn’t Love” with James, Heidi and the cast.
John Cullum returned to sing the tender “One More Walk Around The Garden” from Carmelina, which always brings me to tears. This was another smash hit in the L & L Series.
The next concert will take place the weekend of March 12-14 – “Stage Door Canteen – How Broadway Responded to WWII” with Ted Chapin as host. For tickets and more info: www.92Y.org/Lyrics or phone 212 415-5500.