When your interview subject has played piano for an audience that includes the President of the United States, his wife, Michelle, and the Queen of England, and you’re accompanied by Kristen Chenoweth on vocals, it’s natural to ask about the highlight of the experience. If your subject is musical artist and collaborator, singer and songwriter, and all-around wunderkind kid-at-heart Lance Horne, it doesn’t take long to get an answer.
David Beckham was also in the audience for the Command Performance at the American Embassy, and Horne’s devious sense of humor made, well, great sport of it.
“The queen was incredibly impressive and Beckham was definitely sexier,” laughs Horne, 35, who noted that Tom Hanks was in the crowd too. “Beckham asked me if I could go on the town with him that evening,” he added, before telling me he had already made plans to spend time with Hanks and crew. (Gee… tough life.) “I didn’t realize he was wearing his own scent but I commented on it.”
Horne rolls out names like he’s doing piano scales (“the queen had three Bombay sapphire martinis before our concert”), and I stopped him somewhere between Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim to ask him what he thought of the other big pair at the event. “They were amazing,” says Horne on Barack and Michelle. “Michelle had a beautiful necklace on, a gorgeous smile. Obama was everything I would have hoped for; commanding and assuring, inspiring.”
So who was sexier, Barack or Michelle?
Horne said that when he arrived to rehearse “the secret service was rushing in and out, and our dressing room kept moving. I was playing piano and Hillary Clinton walked into the room. It was a beautiful moment. She said hello and commented on the songs. I see what Bill sees in her. She’s got it.”
I was gonna ask Horne who’s sexier, Bill or Hill, but caught myself, and moved onto the subject of nerves and big names, which led to the main news in Horne’s amazingly busy schedule: On March 13 and an added show on the 14, he’s serving as the Musical Director for “Liza And Alan together,” a celebration of Liza Minnelli’s 67th birthday, at Town Hall.
“It’s pretty big; it was a dream come true,” says Horne, who first worked with Cumming and Minnelli last summer at Fire Island. “People always say something like that, but it was. When I was taking piano lessons, my teacher brought out ‘Cabaret.’ My mom said, ‘That’s too risqué.’ I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew I wanted it.”
Horne continues: “You want everything to go right for them. On Fire Island with Alan and Liza I just finished a rehearsal, I made some mistakes, so I said to Liza, ‘I’m so nervous.’ She turned to me and said, ‘Honey, don’t be nervous. It’s just me.’ It just took her saying not to be.” Horne said the two of them had a good laugh and no one’s intimidated him since.
Still, Horne’s got some pretty big shoes to fill, and summed up his job as musical director succinctly. “My job is to make a musical painting,” he says. “The most important thing to do is breathe together, to keep the rhythm going to unify everyone in case of an unexpected turn in a song, in case of something that everyone feels is really important, making that moment musically sound.”
Should there be a mistake Horne likes to quote his “besties” friend Cumming: “’Cancel and continue.’ Just move forward, stay in the moment, and not worry.”
Horne and Cumming have been great friends for some time now (Horne dated Cumming’s ex before they’d met, which brought them closer together, so much so that they wrote a song about it), and their live work together started with inspiration with an “L.”
“We went to see Liza in Glasgow,” says Horne, adding that they didn’t know each other yet but somehow ended up sitting together. When they met Liza and talked about Alan working on a songbook series, “Liza said ‘Just do it. Just do it, hon.’”
Horne’s love of both of these pros is at least partly based on their work ethic, and each recollection involves some sort of standard of perfection. “When we were out on Fire Island it was a hundred degrees,” says Horne. “None of us were prepared for it. Liza was hanging onto her eyelashes; all of us were doing our best to just hit our marks. Nothing unites an audience more than watching performers achieve something more in the case of adversity. They hit their mark and they make their mark.”
It took a bit for Horne to figure out how many instruments he plays—“Let’s see…seven”—and the Wyoming native’s resume reads like the Encyclopedia of Stars and Star Spots, from places as varied as The Sydney Opera House and Joe’s Pub, to performers as varied as Sandra Bernhard and the Boston Pops. He won a Daytime Emmy for the “One Life to Live” song “Chemistry,” composed the theme song for Ricki Lake’s newest show, and is a mentor at Juilliard.
Sondheim once told Horne that “content dictates form,” and the mentee takes it to heart. He’d love to work with Kylie Minogue and George Wolfe, and when other names were thrown out (Madonna, Britney), he said yes to wanting to work with all of them. “Madonna turned re-invention into invention,” he says, adding “Warhol would be proud of her.” He then tells me that when Britney was “going through her troubles, Liza called her and said ‘hang in there.’”
In 2011, Horne produced his debut album, “First Things Last,” a compilation of original songs sung by quite the cast of characters: Cheyenne Jackson, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Cumming, among other luminaries.
“They were all friends, and I asked them if they would join me in an album of greatest hits,” says Horne. “I wanted to put an album out of musicals I’m writing. I wrote or co-wrote them all, I played or arranged them, I sing on one of the tracks.”
We talked a bit longer—okay, a lot longer—and there were so many Liza gems we kept coming back to her cabaret life. Minnelli once told him that Bob Fosse nailed the chair to the floor during “Mein Herr” so she could dance and sing without peril. “I was working on ‘Burlesque,’ and I passed that secret on to them,” says Horne. “I said, ‘Just hammer from below.’”
Horne takes a beat, catches his breath, and hits his own mark perfectly. “If Liza said it…”
For tickets to Liza and Alan Together, click here.
Top Photograph: Alexandra Silber. Middle Photo: Peter Ross.