Lance Horne :: his time to shine

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 12, 2011

How does a kid from Sheridan, Wyoming grow up to launch his debut CD at Lincoln Center in New York and the Garrick Theatre in London's West End, with a slew of well-known stage and screen stars singing his songs?

If this were a riddle, the answer might be "With lots of practice"-and you wouldn't be far wrong.

It's not a riddle, but the true story of Lance Horne, Emmy-winning, composer, musician, vocalist and producer. His First Things Last CD (Yellow Sound) is released officially this week and on Friday, January 14th, an all-star gala concert of the recording is set for two shows at Lincoln Center as part of the American Songbook Series. His London Garrick Theatre show happens on January 30th.

Star-studded line-up

The track listing boasts such names as Alan Cumming, Cheyenne Jackson, Ricki Lake, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Lea DeLaria, as well as Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls and stage stars Julie Atherton, Hannah Waddington and several others. Many will appear at the concert.

"I wasn't necessarily anticipating having a guest on each track, but everyone I asked said yes," said the gentle-voiced Horne in a recent sit-down interview with EDGE. Dressed in blue plaid pants, a short-sleeved white shirt and stylish rimless eyeglasses, with an unruly mane of brown curls and beard framing his youthful face, Horne, 33, had a bit of the mad genius look about him. He quickly disarmed with his subtle humor and playful way with language.

"It's great that it's coming to fruition as the Songbook Series, because that's where it all began," he said. That was two years ago when he worked with co-producer Michael Croiter on Alan Cumming's first CD, I Bought a Blue Car Today. Horne then approached Croiter about doing his own album, telling him, "It's time."

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Watch Lance Horne sing "American: Weimar New York":

Playing the piano... at age 2

Horne smiled thinking back to where the journey began. The only child of a construction engineer ("Being a composer is like being an architect") and a barn singer ("She may or may not have had an affair with one of the Dorsey brothers"), Horne recalled, "I grew up on the edge of a canyon in a coal-mining town in Wyoming and I would gather crystals in the canyon. My first word after 'mama' and 'dada' was 'buffalo.'"

Horne claims he rode a horse before he began playing piano - at age two. At that time, his grandmother gave him a player piano that could be played by colors. "My father gave me a football," he said. "And I sat on the football and played the piano. That pretty much set the tone."

Neither parent was particularly musical, but at age five they brought him to a music store and asked him what he wanted. The little Horne sat down at a Steinway baby grand.

While that purchase was not possible at the time, a few years later the family moved to Arizona. There, Horne joined the Phoenix Boys Choir, which eventually toured in Japan. He also took up classical piano lessons.

"The piano teacher hated that I kept changing things. She kicked me out of her studio and told me I'd never make it in music," Horne related. He was eight years old at the time.

Around that time, he listened over-and-over again to three of his mother's cassettes: Easter Parade, Annie Get Your Gun, and Pacific Overtures.

"It was probably supposed to be South Pacific," Horne said of the latter, "But that set the bar pretty high early on."

Hearing Cabaret, he asked his mother for it. "She told me it was too risqu. I didn't know what risqu was, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it."

"I'm a Libra," Horned noted. "So I balance a lot of tension in my family." He describes his family as conservative: his father is a rancher and a hunter, but he is a vegetarian and a pacifist; his mother smokes and he does not. "My grandmother had more of an issue with me being a vegan than being gay," Horne said with a grin.

Swimming and piano lessons

Horne credits his parents with urging him to be well-rounded. He became an Eagle Scout and a backstroke swimming champion. All the while, he continued his studies in classical piano and computer programming in after school programs at Arizona State University.

In sixth grade, Horne was interviewed after a presentation of his first musical, The Real Me, based on interviews with the student body. He precociously told the interviewer he wanted to go to Juilliard and write for the theater.

A new piano teacher told him at that time, while practicing Debussy, that if he felt something and wanted to write it down for himself, he could change it and make it his own. "That was the first unlocking," Horne recalled.

Amazingly, Horne was deaf in his right ear until he was sixteen. "They drilled a hole in my skull and were able to fix it," he said. "I went from mono to stereo." Horne describes that as the second unlocking.

Horne spent his last two years of high school at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. "Whenever I didn't have homework, I would listen to all the show recordings and performers," Horne claimed. The knowledge served him well when he arrived in New York and began meeting performers. He would ask esoteric questions, such as asking Rebecca Luker about a song she recorded for Lost in Boston 2.

As it turns out, the move to New York wasn't far off. Although he had taken one trip to the city in 1992 ("I left a tour of the Statue of Liberty because I didn't want to miss the matinee of Blood Brothers; I still haven't seen the torch"), when he was a senior, he called a number in an ad in Theatre Week, which had asked "Do you believe in the future of musical theater?"

Horne called and answered that, indeed, he did believe. It turns out, he was talking to the folks that ran the Hal Prince musical theater program and they told him an assistant had just quit. Would he like to intern for the summer?

After a quick "yes" to that, Horne found himself moving to New York the day after graduation and living in the Juilliard dorms that summer, where he had already been accepted for the fall. The year was 1996. "I worked from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m or later and did anything and everything," Horne remembered. That included such tasks as running lights for the Naked Angels Theater Company, sound for Amas Musical Theater, being around to advise if there was a musical issue during a rehearsal, and running errands for Betty Buckley.

"They even produced one of my musicals, appropriately entitled Calamity, that fall, which never saw the light of day," Horne said. However, by that time he had corresponded with Stephen Sondheim, who advised Horne to continue his classical training. That led to study with Milton Babbitt at Juilliard.

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Watch Lance Horne sing "Little White Asparagus Blues":

Loves saying yes

Horne received both his Bachelor's and Masters degrees at Juilliard. Horne has frequently taught also, as well as taking part in many other projects-writing an off-Broadway opera, scoring a film, writing a piece for piano and flute for Carnegie Hall, musical directing at the Sydney Opera House, to name just a handful.

"I love saying yes to something I haven't done before," Horne explained. Through all of those projects, people started coming into his life.

The people at One Life to Live asked him to write a song. That turned out to be "Chemistry," which won an Emmy in 2008. "That changed the way that people were able to deal with me," he said. "When someone mentioned my name, then people in the industry could say, 'Yeah, work with him.'"

That year was a busy year and the stress began to be evident. "Alan Cumming asked me if there was anything that could be done? When I said no, he said, 'Then cancel and continue.' That was the third unlocking."

When asked how he manages to wear all the hats, Horne said, "I'm glad they're all parts of the same flower." He noted that there was a historical precedent to it, in people such as Noel Coward, Marvin Hamlisch, and Barry Manilow, but that he also loves collaboration. One of his mantras is "Never go to bed without a list."

Somehow, Horne has managed to sustain a five-year relationship with dancer/choreographer Tiger Martina-Liza Minnelli's dance captain. In fact, it was Martina who put her through her paces for her "Single Ladies" dance number in Sex and the City 2. The two have worked together on Macy's Thanksgiving Day floats, among other projects.

As for the show at Lincoln Center, which will be directed by Daisy Prince, Horne will be on the keys and perform a couple of the songs. "I'm going to do my best to not be distracted by that view," he said, referring to the cast and lights by Matt Berman. He describes the event as "an endless party and a musical feast" and hopes the audience suspends judgment and approaches the show with curiosity.

"Most songs are going to be new to people, so this will be kind of a palate-tasting," he said of the diverse cast and his genre-crossing songs.

In addition to First Things Last, Horne has three musicals in various stages of development.

In the meantime, he's pinching himself about the life he has had thus far and the people he has met.

Describing the genesis of his autobiographical song "Leap," Horne explained, "Here was this cowboy from Wyoming watching the sun rise from a rooftop in Berlin . . ." Yet another song was born:

Come on, let's leap like the lightning from the mountain
Leap from the head of that fountain.
Let go this time, it isn't yours to keep.
And she said "Leap" and I leapt.
And he said "Keep" and I kept on dreaming days into weeks.
Into now, out of then.
They said "Weep" and I wept, and I dug to the depths.
And what wasn't me I left behind an exit sign that wasn't mine.
And headed east for sunrise time,
And I'm not waiting again. No, I'm not waiting again . . .

First Things Last is available online and in stores on January 11. The concerts at Lincoln Center will be on Friday, January 14th, with shows at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Go to for ticket information.

Watch this performance of Lance Horne's "Let Me Take You to Vegas":

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).