Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Regional Reviews by Matthew Small

The Boston Pops
with special guest Jennifer Holliday

Symphony Hall

Jennifer Holliday
While I looked forward to the Boston Pops last week because of a certain Dreamgirl's appearance for the second set of the program, there was much to celebrate in the rich diversity of the first set. Conductor Keith Lockhart eagerly launched the premiere of Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo à la Turk" as skillfully arranged by the late artist's son Chris Brubeck. His expansion of the original 1959 work for jazz quartet captured the essence and style of the tune, while adding a majestic quality that filled Symphony Hall.

For the culmination of this year's Young Artists Competition, the Boston Pops welcomed four talented acts to the stage with an inspiring video that introduced the personalities of the teenagers who were about to entertain the audience. "I think it's going to sound amazing when we play," offered pianist Kevin Sherman during the video. Good prediction, Kevin.

Each of the young musicians was poised and confident as they entered the stage to begin their performances. Jeffrey Zhou, virtuoso of the Chinese bamboo flute, enthusiastically played an acrobatic "Horses Come to Town" with members of the Boston Chinese Musicians Association. Kevin Sherman took to the Steinway grand piano for impressive excerpts from Chopin's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor." Claire Dickson's silky, sweet voice delivered a hopeful rendition of Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark." Finally, local teen band Liquid Sun closed the set with Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond."

There is no one quite like the legendary Jennifer Holliday. I've lost track of the times I have watched her show-stopping "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," from both the Dreamgirls performance on the 1982 Tony Awards broadcast and her 1999 revival of the song at Carnegie Hall as part of the PBS Great Performances series. And, yes, she sang her heart out with this signature song to close the act. I can gleefully check that off my list of live performances to witness. However, it was her other selections that were truly spellbinding.

Holliday simultaneously connects to both her songs and her audience. Opening the set with a slow-fast combination of "One Night Only" from Dreamgirls, she allowed us to indulge in the 1980s artist we revere. While many obsessed over her Tony Award-winning role as Effie, Holliday has spent more than 30 years fine-tuning her own voice to interpret some of the great standards of the American songbook. Other than a pair of Dreamgirls bookends, she spent most of the evening sharing highlights from her new album, The Song Is You.

Holliday was joined by her talented musical director Carlos O. Simon, Jr. on piano for the set. Along with the "The Song Is You," Holliday performed "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "From this Moment On." Her finest moments appeared within a tribute to Etta James. Holliday's rendition of "At Last" brought the beloved modern classic to soaring new heights. Her power and finesse blended well with the luscious sound of the Boston Pops. She offered shout-outs to several loyal supporters in the audience, as well as the greater Boston community, whom she thanked for hosting the out-of-town tryout for the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls in 1981. Along with a voice of steel, her banter in between selections offered some very funny moments.

No one should hesitate to see Holliday perform live. Her level of artistry and charisma cannot be fairly captured on video. Jennifer Holliday deserves as many concert and theater bookings as she can squeeze into her schedule. Like those of us gathered at Symphony Hall, audiences will show appreciation for her gifts with sustained, thunderous applause each and every time.

The 2014 Boston Pops season continues at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., Boston. For tickets and information, visit the box office, call (617) 266-1200 or purchase online at

- Matthew Small

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