This weekend just past in San Francisco was a good one for those of us who savor larger-than-life lady singers.
On Saturday, Jennifer Holliday, the Tony Award-winning original Effie Melody White in Dreamgirls, made a rare concert appearance in San Francisco.
The Herbst Theatre was jam packed with Holliday lovers, though the show started out on shaky ground. The band launched into a slow version of “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls, and after about 15 minutes the audience was wondering where the star was? The musical director kept looking back into the wings to see if Holliday was ready yet.
Finally, one of the three backup singers offered a subtle nod, and out came Holliday. For the next two-plus hours, this former Dreamgirl detonated one musical explosion after another. She dusted off some older solo material, like “I Am Love” and “Come Sunday,” and shined up some standards (“Come Rain or Come Shine,” “A Tisket, a Tasket,” “The Nearness of You,” “How High the Moon”).
Everything Holliday sings, she, in her words, “Jenniferizes” it, which is to say, she sings the bloody h— out of it. She has to choose her material carefully (and she does), because she loads up a whole lot of vocal weight and interpretation on the song’s framework. And the song has to be strong to bear up. Holliday almost becomes possessed when she sings, and she takes a song to places you had no idea it could go.
I lost track of the standing ovations. At first it was fans in the first row (and my date) standing after almost every song. Then it was all of us, standing, cheering, whooping and hollering. She did a tribute to Stax records and threw in a little Elvis love with an extraordinary “The Wonder of You.”
Holliday threw in a Christmas tune (“This Christmas”) and, of course, sang her Dreamgirls songs: I am Changing (all I can say is this: wow) and, as her encore, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”).
I honestly can’t tell you why this woman isn’t a superstar. She’s had bad luck, bad timing and, if rumors can be believed, some true diva moments. But there are undboutedly more difficult people out there who have a lot less talent than Jennifer Holliday.
Someone please get her an extraordinary career.
And on Sunday night at Davis Symphony Hall, Queen Latifah, the Oscar-nominated star of Chicago and Hairspray, made a stop on her mini-tour in support of her latest disc, the standards collection “Trav’lin’ Light.”
Dressed in a black blouse, black slacks and spiky black heels, the warm and funny Latifah impressed with her selection of standards (“I Love Being Here with You,” “Lush Life,” “I’m Gonna Live Til I Die,” “Trav’lin’ Light”), rough blues (“Baby Get Lost”), gentle blues (“Georgia Rose”), funk (“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”) and the tunes we call show (“I Know Where I’ve Been” from Hairspray).
She also made some missteps. She ended the set with a limp “California Dreamin'” and stretched out “Simply Beautiful” to interminable length and allowed her backup trio (all terrific, but do they all really need solos?) their moments in the spotlight. But it was, frankly, boring.
And she didn’t sing “When You’re Good to Mama,” her song from Chicago. She had time for Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man” but not for Matron Mama Morton? Come on, Queen!
Read our music critic Jim Harrington’s review of the Queen Latifah concert here.