Renée Elise Goldsberry is a charismatic entertainer with a big musical theater voice, and she was well-received as she sang her way through a variety of musical genres at the Auditorium Theatre Saturday night. But it was clear what many attendees came to see, when Goldsberry turned to her role as Angelica Schuyler in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton, the performance that won her a 2016 Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
As Goldsberry lit into “Satisfied”—her lament of unrequited love after Alexander Hamilton married her sister Eliza—many in the audience jumped to their feet, most swaying to the beat and some singing along. They kept right on singing and swaying as Goldsberry reprised two other songs from Hamilton, “Schuyler Sisters” and “It’s Quiet Uptown.”
The emergence of Hamilton as one of our era’s biggest pop culture phenomena gave the star the stature to create her own touring show, An Evening With Renée Elise Goldsberry. Backed by three woman singers and a four-piece band, Goldsberry showed her high comfort level with a variety of musical styles.
Goldsberry opened the show with “On a Clear Day,” a song introduced by Barbra Streisand in the 1970 movie On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, then segued thematically into a cover of “I Can See Clearly Now,” the reggae-infused Johnny Nash hit. What followed was a long segment that showed that Goldsberry has serious gospel chops, and included a gospel medley that enabled singers Crystal Monee Hall, Kristina Nicole Miller and Tasha Michelle to share center stage.
The middle of show was made up of a series of mid 20th century pop tunes, including lyrics to the Henry Mancini theme music to the television series Peter Gunn (and who knew that the piece actually had lyrics?). Then Goldsberry—who joked at the beginning of the show that she would get to Broadway tunes because “I want to get out of here alive”—turned to the roles and songs that made her famous.
Goldsberry interspersed anecdotes about her career throughout the 90-minute-long show; to open the Broadway portion she told a story about her big breakthrough, which came when she auditioned as a replacement for the role of Nala in the Broadway production of The Lion King while emotionally wrought over the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. After singing “Shadowland” from that musical, she performed the first two Hamilton songs, then performed a medley from Rent (she was the last actor to play the doomed Mimi Márquez during the show’s long Broadway run).
The performance ended with a two-song encore of “It’s Quiet Uptown” and the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical Carousel.
The show was engaging throughout and it is hard to find fault with Goldsberry’s vocal performance. There is room for a couple of quibbles though.
The backing band of Jordan Peters on guitar, Jeff Hanley on bass, Zachary Mullings on drums, and Andrew Freedman on piano is very talented, but one could have done with a little less of them. Goldsberry has such a dynamic voice that she might give a thought to giving herself more opportunity to let it stand out without having to compete with the instrumentals.
In fact, one of the strongest and most moving renditions was that of “It’s Quiet Uptown,” a ballad about Alexander Hamilton as he coped with the violent death of his son, which she performed only with Freedman’s piano accompaniment.
The other nitpick is that Goldsberry tended to take everything up-tempo, including a couple of songs—Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters and the song from Carousel—that are beloved in part because of their austere arrangements. Artists have license, of course, to interpret songs as they choose, but at times it can clash with audience expectations of how a song is “supposed to sound.”
Overall, an entertaining evening, and now I want to watch that Hamilton video again.
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