On Stage at the Opera House, Kennedy Center: A Time to Sing – An Evening with Renée Fleming and Vanessa Williams. Photo by Scott Suchman.
In front of a small (very fortunate) socially distranced audience, with the beautifully highlighted red backdrop of one of the Kennedy Center‘s most iconic stages, two of America’s most cherished and celebrated vocalists of the stage joined together, six feet apart, to launch the innovative On Stage at the Opera Houseseries. Designed to safely usher back into our hearts the joy of performing live, Renée Fleming and Vanessa Williams gifted us all with just The Right Stuff, a concoction of rapturous vocal engagement and musical fun at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Streamed last night, it was the first in-the-moment live performance in front of an audience on this famed stage in over six months, and it was a shot of pure pleasure to embrace these two gifted performers and what they brought to the table. The configuration of the stage was basically ‘theatre in reverse’ (something that The Old Vic In Camera has been doing extraordinary well these last few months), re-imagined the visual by placing the two artists on a 30 x 24-foot stage extension built over the orchestra-level seating area, with 40 lucky souls invited to set in physically-distanced pairs of the famed stage. The iconic red interior of the hall floated stunningly out behind, reminding us all the healing power of the performing arts and the resilience and hope needed by us all as we move forward into an unknown but hopeful future.
The concert, A Time to Sing: An Evening with Renée Fleming and Vanessa Williams, showcased the two obvious friends’ strong vocal skills, exploring, diving in, and relishing a collection of very well chosen personal songs that solidly connected to their long exemplary careers. With solid music direction by Rob Mathes (Broadway’s The Last Ship) and under the watchful eye of producer/director Elizabeth Curtis, the musical evening floated effortlessly on a cloud of good-natured friendship and alliance, gracing us all with their vocal talent. Envisioned together over a few glasses of wine on a Zoom call, Fleming and Williams ventured forth most lovingly, singing numerous duets and solos ranging from the eclectic opening number, “Fragile” by Sting, to Stephen Sondheim’s classic and glorious “No One is Alone”/”Children Will Listen“. Their talent was on full and obvious display, even within the somewhat sillier, yet charming and fun new song written specially for this concert by Tony Award nominee Andrew Lippa (The Addams Family, The Wild Party).
Vanessa Williams, a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award nominee who has appeared most memorably a number of times on the Broadway stage (including the Tony/Drama Desk Award-winning revival production of Into the Woods), has, in my mind, the most connecting voice of the two. I was, back before the darkening of theatre worldwide, eagerly looking forward to seeing her in the London West End Production of City of Angels at the Garrick Theatre (I had tickets for March 16, 2020), but it shut down before I had the chance to even board my cancelled flight. But last night on the Kennedy Opera House Stage, she shimmered and dazzled, particularly when she showcased her velvety voice singing Lena Horne’s classic, “Stormy Weather” (Music: Harold Arlen; Lyrics: Ted Koehler), along with her timeless signature hit, “Save the Best for Last” (Music/Lyrics: Wendy Waldman, Phil Galdston, Jon Lind), that glided out into the rafters as beautifully as it did when first released in 1992. Her “On the Other Side of the Tracks” (Music: Cy Coleman; Lyrics: Carolyn Leigh) and “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough” (Music: Julie Styne; Lyrics: Betty Comden, Adolph Green), with that powerful and very current personal introduction, wafted out into the air, bringing deeper meaning and glory to an already wonderful evening.
Renée Fleming, a world renowned operatic soprano, brought her pitch perfect sound and elegance to the forefront. She radiated warmth and care, even during the somewhat cliche in-between song chatter (that felt a bit too scripted to really pull us in). But her voice resonated, especially during her surprisingly compelling “Both Sides Now“, an iconic song written by Joni Mitchell that I never would have imagined fitting her so neatly. Not so surprising, her delivery of “Song to the Moon“, a pure piece of writing from the lyric fairy tale opera, Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák with a libretto by the Czech poet Jaroslav Kvapil (with accompanist Rob Ainsley), fit her voice as perfectly and stunningly as one could imagine. She bravely sang “So Big, So Small“, one of the most touching songs from Dear Evan Hansen, and even though she didn’t find the heartbreaking core of the song like Rachel Bay Jones did nightly on the Broadway stage, she proved her crystal clear ability to find the pain inside, while also shining a strong light on the aching beauty of the writing (Music/Lyrics: Benj Pasek, Justin Paul). But it was her closing number, the iconic “Over the Rainbow” that cemented the importance of the night, and the gloriousness of a stellar live performance. The song, and the whole evening, worked its magic on us all. These two deserved wild enthusiastic applause from a packed auditorium, even though it was limited to the forty that sat on stage. But I hope they could feel our love and heart felt joy through the airwaves. That was loud and rapturous, for them, and the return of live performances at the Kennedy Center. Fingers crossed for more.
Watch the exclusive live performance filmed from the Opera House stage by downloading. Your payment of $15 gives you digital access through 2020. Audiences will also be able to experience future On Stage at the Opera House performances in-person at the Kennedy Center with select concerts to be live streamed. Tickets for this and future
performances are now on-sale via the Kennedy Center website or by calling (202) 467-4600 or
October 2: Musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra
October 8: Jazz Gallery All-Stars
October 20:the Dover Quartet and the Escher Quartet
October 30: Musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra
Additional artists and dates will be announced at a later time.
For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com