Lee Horwin: Blues, Ballads & Sin Songs: The Legend of Libby Holman

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Lee Horwin

Blues, Ballads & Sin Songs:
The Legend of Libby Holman

The Triad, NYC, May 7, 2018

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Lee Horwin
Photo: Maryann Lopinto

Lee Horwin may have stumbled into a fascination with the long- gone, once infamous Libby Holman simply due to the similar initials—L.H. But, she delved deep enough into the lore of the love-lorn diva to smoke out the cobwebs on an unsung chapter of New York musical theater past. Holman, known for singing so many songs about unrequited love—“torch songs” with a deep, sentimental voice that she was dubbed the “Statue of Libby”—lied, loved, and lived to laugh at the disaster it all became — after it had risen toward such promise. Horwin, for her part, described the story astutely, though the sequence drifted in the end, interestingly, much like the end of Holman’s life and career.

The main focus of the show was on Holman’s rise and her subsequent love affair with the dastardly Zachary Smith Reynolds, who chased the young diva—known for appearing at all times with the brash Louisa d’Andelot Carpenter—all around Manhattan. For a time, Holman’s life became a front-page affair, and Horwin danced and sang through this tale with precision, cutting in songs around the tale she wove of a heroic rise. She and director/writer Walter Willison  repurposed songs like “I Love Louisa” and “Dancing in the Dark” (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz, both from The Band Wagon) to depict the world that swirled around Holman—a world full of whimsy, desire, and the blues.

Holman lived unapologetically and eventually became cursed when her husband’s death became the subject of an intense debate: murder or suicide? The retelling came to a crashing crescendo, after the death of Reynolds, when Horwin quoted Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire, admitting that she had caught her husband in bed with his longtime friend! When she confronted him, he shot himself. That may indeed be the real story behind Reynolds’ death — and it would have been a good moment to bring the curtain down — but Horwin continued, through strong numbers discussing Holman’s support for Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights. Worthy mentions sure, but only to an extent. Still, Horwin, with the help of Joel A. Martin on the piano, shared an oft-thrilling story of a Manhattan past.

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see StruckChris.com