By Joel Benjamin
It’s rare that a performer balances mature mellowness with youthful energy. Loni Ackerman exquisitely managed that feat in her show Next to Ab-normal at 54 Below on February 25th as she exultantly revealed the delicious details of her glamorous upbringing in New York City. Her storybook life included early exposure to show business celebrities like Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse and Dorothy Fields who actually sang the entire score of Sweet Charity soon after she wrote it. From that show’s original score—cut from the final version—was Fields’ & Cy Coleman’s haunting “Pink Taffeta Sample, Size 10” about the yearnings of a young girl for both the love of her father and a lovely dress. It was clear that it was an experienced, sophisticated Loni Ackerman singing the song, but her eyes shone like those of a sweet adolescent.
A precocious kid exposed early to pop and theater music, she eventually turned to ballet after—she admitted—shedding her baby fat. “The First Girl in the Second Row” (Hugh Martin with additional lyrics by Next to Abnormal’s clever director, Barry Kleinbort) humorously helped us picture her early ballet career which eventually led her to Paris, but not until after she lost her virginity while on tour with So Long 174th Street from which she sang the bluesy, Jewish-y “Men” (Stan Daniels), a tongue-in-cheek lament about a lost love. After a wistful “Blame It on My Youth” (Oscar Levant/Edward Heymann), her exultant “Here I Am” (David Yazbek) announced her arrival in Paris. There she inadvertently and innocently wound up singing the title song of a porn film (!)—the very Sixties “Come Back, My Love,” written by Joe Ricotta, the porn film’s sleazy producer.
Her sweet emotions on her return to New York City were expressed in Barry Kleinbort’s “Ma Maison” and a New York Medley which featured “Sunday in New York” (Portia Nelson, Peter Nero & Carroll Coates). She subsequently appeared in three Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals—Evita, Cats and Sunset Boulevard—from which she sang the most memorable songs with all the right dramatic flourishes and gestures.
But it was the tender songs in which she particularly excelled, taking advantage of the intimacy of the room and the audience’s rapt attention. “I Remember You” (Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer) was sadness personified leading to the bittersweet confession of deep attachment “With You” (Maltby and Shire). Her encore, James Taylor’s “The Secret O’ Life,” reduced the story of her life to just one line: “It’s just a lovely ride.” If this show is any indication that is very, very true.
Her musical cohorts, led and arranged by Paul Greenwood, included Tom Hubbard on bass and Jeremy Clayton on woodwinds, all of whom sang back up and were clearly totally engaged.
254 West 54th St. (between Broadway & 8th Ave.)
New York, NY
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