Heather Headley – American Songbook

A superbly tuned instrument used to crowd-pleasing effect

 

By Joel Benjamin

 

 

Heather Headley’s voice is a superbly tuned instrument which she used to crowd-pleasing effect in her recent Lincoln Center’s American Songbook appearance at the Appel Room of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

She opened, surprisingly, with an “11 O’Clock number,” “Home,” the joyous apotheosis from The Wiz (Quincy Jones & Charlie Smalls), providing a high bar to jump over. Because she is Heather Headley, she, indeed, magically kept up the momentum—for the most part—with the assistance of her musical director, Ron Colvard conducting a large band and two wonderful backup singers (extolled, but sadly never named), breathing life into a program that showed off both her vocal chops and her acting talent.

“Sadie, Sadie” (Jule Styne/Bob Merrill), the funny paean to the pleasures of domesticity from Funny Girl might have sufficed as her description of her married life; or even “All the Man I Need” (Dean Pitchford/Michael Gore), another glowing acknowledgement of her relationship with her hubby would have sealed the deal. Instead, Ms. Headley chose to speak at length about her domestic bliss as if to de-diva herself. She went on far too long about her husband and her children. (Did we really need to picture her cooking and serving chicken wings for her husband’s Super Bowl shindig?) Her whole manner, between songs, was at odds with her top drawer artistry.

That she had classical training was clearly proved with her rendition of the Negro spiritual, “Who’ll Be the Witness,” sung without benefit of a microphone.

As a tribute to Elton John whose Aida shot her to fame and a Tony Award, she sang “Your Song” (John/Bernie Taupin) with passion and deference.

She tore the house down with “River Deep – Mountain High” (Ellie Greenwich/Jeff Barry/Phil Spector), giving Tina Turner (a diva, for sure) a run for her money.

A mini-rainbow theme emerged with the lovely “Look to the Rainbow” (Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg), one of the “songs I can’t sing on Broadway.” (The other members of this sad group included the Bernstein/Sondheim “Maria” and “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables.) She ended the concert with a prayerful “Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen/Harburg) that left the rafters of the Appel Room ringing long after we left.

Heather Headley – Lincoln Center’s American Songbook (February 4, 2017)
Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall
Columbus Circle
New York, NY
For tickets, call 212-721-6500 or visit www.AmericanSongBook.org
Runnng time: one hour, no intermission

 

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