This reviewer had some serious chills this past weekend, and it had nothing to do with the briskness that stole into the air. It was a direct result of the beautiful voice of Cynthia Erivo, who was the latest featured performer in the “VOICES” series at The Kennedy Center, curated by The Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor at Large Renee Fleming.
A world-famous Soprano, Renee Fleming started the “VOICES” series to highlight the wide breadth of talent present in the professional singing community today. Her aim is to “herald the power of the voice across a wide range of genres, from jazz to Broadway and more.” Each year she invites vocalists at the top of their craft to share their gift with The Kennedy Center audiences and this past Saturday it was Broadway sensation Cynthia Erivo.
Erivo’s enormous talent garnered multiple standing ovations from an adoring audience, at one point bringing the seasoned performer to tears.
Cynthia Erivo was born and raised in London, England where she later trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After playing the lead role of Sister Mary Clarence/Deloris Van Cartier in the UK national tour of “Sister Act,” her star would truly rise when she played another character originated by Whoopi Goldberg- Celie Harris in “The Color Purple.” She would first play this role in the off-West End production of the musical, and would then go with it for its revival on Broadway, sharing the stage with vocal heavyweights like Jennifer Hudson an Heather Headly and the enigmatic Danielle Brooks of “Orange is the New Black” fame. Her heart-stopping and dynamic performance earned her the 2016 Tony award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, one of the few awards that night that wasn’t claimed by the “Hamilton” juggernaut. She would end up also winning a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album in 2017 and a Daytime Emmy award that she shared with the rest of the cast for their performance on the Today show.
Erivo took the stage for the first of two Saturday shows in an eye-popping red and white striped billowing suit with sky-high red platform heels to match. She pulled up a stool in front of her band: piano, guitar, base, drum-set, and bongos. She opened the performance with a soulful rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way.” Erivo introduced herself with her lilting British accent and set the tone for the performance by exuding a combination of confidence, authenticity, and charm. She followed up the opener with another Franklin tune, “You Make Me Feel (Like A Natural Woman.”) Her fluidity of tone blended perfectly with her piano player and guitar player, doing double duty playing their instruments and singing backup, as they wove harmonies, creating a compelling new take on a classic tune.
The performance overall was an eclectic mix of jazz, blues, pop, and yes, a bit of Broadway thrown in. As Erivo herself laughed after dropping a stunning rendition of her breakout song from “The Color Purple,” “I’m Here:” “It’s not like I wasn’t going to do that song, I mean, come on.” Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch Erivo’s performance at the Tony Awards – it’s one of the best live performances this reviewer has ever seen, click here.
Two themes that ran throughout the performance were that all of the music obviously brought Erivo joy to sing and many of the songs were empowering to women. Some personal favorites of this reviewer were her rendition of a personal favorite Annie Lennox song, “Why,” a funky mashup of “Beautiful” by India.Arie and “I Want To Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston, and an intensely unique and enjoyable version of “Bust Your Windows,” by Jazmine Sullivan, where the beat went from a seductive tango to a smooth funk.
Erivo’s enormous talent garnered multiple standing ovations from an adoring audience, at one point bringing the seasoned performer to tears. She was called back for an encore after her performance of “I Just Had to Hear Your Voice” and rounded out a performance filled with high points, only intensified by Erivo’s engaging and sparkling personality. The performance was incredibly enjoyable and a great use of the newly renovated and reopened Terrace Theater at The Kennedy Center.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
While Cynthia Erivo’s performance has concluded, I’d strongly recommend checking out the next installment of Renee Fleming’s “VOICES” series, featuring Canadian Soprano Barbara Hannigan and Dutch pianist Reinbert de Leeuw: click here.