*Upon news Thursday that Showtime is developing a limited series about the life of singer, actress and activist Lena Horne, we’re revisiting her Tony Award-winning 1981 Broadway musical that also portrayed her life story and will be included in the series.
Showtime’s “Blackbird: Lena Horne and America,” from her granddaughter Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman, takes its name from Horne’s favorite poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens.
According to Deadline.com, “Blackbird” will follow Horne from her early years dancing at the Cotton Club at age 16, through World War II and stardom of the MGM years, being blacklisted in Hollywood during McCarthyism, fighting injustice in the civil rights movement and her triumphant return to Broadway.
That May 12, 1981 Broadway return, titled “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” featured the Brooklyn-born, Georgia-bred powerhouse dancing and singing music from her films, belting tunes written for her, and filling the spaces in between with rich, colorful anecdotes that moved along her life story. She touched on the racism that she encountered in Hollywood, including roles she could have played that instead went to white actresses such as Ava Gardner and Hedy Lamarr in dark makeup. She was accompanied by dancers and backup singers. Costumes were designed by Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo and the cast album was produced by Quincy Jones.
The musical numbers included her signature song “Stormy Weather” (performed twice), “I Got a Name,” “Lady is a Tramp” and “Believe in Yourself.” The show has been described as the definitive performance of Horne’s career. Newsweek said Horne was “the most awesome performer to have hit Broadway in years.” The New York Times said she “transforms each song…into an intensely personal story that we’ve never quite heard before.”
“The Lady and Her Music” came a year after Horne announced her retirement in March 1980 and performed a two-month farewell tour of the U.S. Director Arthur Faria had originally conceived a multi character script for a Broadway run called “Lena’s World,” but scrapped it for this one-woman show instead.
The production had 333 performances before closing on June 30, 1982, Horne’s 65th birthday.
Here it is in its entirety.