The Legend of Libby Holman
By Sandi Durell
Lee Horwin>Libby Holman – a world premiere of a one act musical play has emerged at The Triad Theatre written and directed by Walter Willison. It’s a remarkable undertaking by a team of pros about a lady of stage and song and grand notoriety in the 1920s ,1930s and beyond. . . Libby Holman (born Elizabeth Lloyd Holzman in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1904).
She was a wicked woman born for sin, sex and then some, appearing in flop after flop until her big break in The Little Show in 1929 with Clifton Webb and Fred Allen singing “Moanin’ Low” (Howard Dietz, Ralph Rainger) drew many curtain calls and critical raves launching the femme fatale.
Horwin is Holman with her well-nuanced, deep, dark resonant tones and exquisite dramatic acting chops offering up a peek into the life of this wonton woman who became an overnight success as a torch and blues singer. When she met DuPont heiress Louisa d’Andelot Carpenter, the two of them embarked on a long intimate relationship, spurring Clifton Webb’s “girls will be boys!”
The show takes the audience through the ups and downs of Libby Holman’s life and times in song and story, accompanied by Joel A. Martin on piano . . . and what a good storyteller Lee Holman is! From “I Love Louisa/ Got a Bran’ New Suit!” to a relationship that included actress Jeanne Eagles expressed in “I See Your Face Before Me”/ “Body and Soul,” as she dishes the dirt on all her affairs, boozing and dope that made up Holman’s unique career. Libby loved to party in Harlem because, it had the best music, sex and booze. She was a forerunner for racial equality and gay rights.
Stalked by Reynolds’ heir Zachary Smith Reynolds, a fan and an aviator smitten with the actress, he followed Libby around the world, finally wooing her hand in marriage, resulting in a continuing downward spiral of affairs, sex and drugs referenced by Dietz/Schwartz’ “Smokin’Reefers,” in a memorable characterization performance.
In the mix, was actor Montgomery Clift, several years Holman’s junior, another scandal in Holman’s life but one that held a place in her heart until Clift died in 1966, throwing her into deep depression.
Holman did give birth to a baby boy via her marriage to Smith whom she called “Topper” and at one point, reunited with Louisa living and raising their children together.
“The Front Page” (Walter Willison/Jeffrey Silverman) gives pause to the positives for a sorted life to put oneself in the limelight. After all, we love to hear the backstories of the rich and famous – as down and dirty as possible! Horwin makes the most of nitty, gritty unacceptable behavior and give ‘em what they want philosophy in this song.
Tragedy struck Libby when her husband was killed in their bed under questionable circumstances and she was cleared of murdering him – headlines . . .“Black Widow Cleared of Murder Charges.” Her son died at a later date and Holman immersed herself in what later became known as the Civil Rights Movement, supporting Martin Luther King.
The clever choices and arrangements of rich material also include songs by Irving Berlin, Charles Strouse & Lee Adams, and are a collaboration between Walter Willison and Ron Abel. In fact, Willison had conceptualized the project, in one form or another, beginning in 1980! Abel is responsible for the musical arrangements and musical direction. The two of them worked closely together to integrate the songs into the book, as in a full scale original musical score. The running threadline of material allows Horwin to reveal her multi talents, a woman who has had a remarkable career and, after two decades, left the biz to embark on a 21 year self discovery quest.
But the call of the bright lights beckoned as she missed her first love – singing! Happily so, as this piece undoubtedly will have a grand life traveling easily around the globe.
Photos/Video: Magda Katz
The Triad, 158 West 72 Street www.triadnyc.com – Additional date: May 7 at 7 pm