Review: Toni Braxton at Foxwoods Resort Casino

Toni Braxton eased into our collective memories in 1992 on the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of Boomerang. The next year she seared her voice onto our memories with the music of her self-titled album, Toni Braxton. She has remained the gold-standard for the modern R&B sound, ever since.

Toni Braxton was her first album collaboration with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, who wrote and produced the unforgettable singles, "Breathe Again" and "Another Sad Love Song". Babyface and Toni Braxton have created a partnership between writer and performer that continues to this day. He writes and she performs; and you can't imagine anyone else delivering his music and message as well as she does.

Toni kept the string of hits going when her next album, Secrets, was released. The epic, smash hit, "Un-break my Heart" (written by Diane Warren) remained in the number-one spot of the U.S. Hot 100 charts for 11 consecutive weeks.

In 1998, Toni took her talents to Broadway, where she performed for a year as "Belle" in Disney's, Beauty and the Beast. She returned to the Great White Way in 2000, taking over the title-role in Aida from Heather Headley.

After a few lower-profile years, during which she raised her sons, Toni re-emerged onto the R&B scene in 2005 with Libra. She is currently touring to promote the album, which was RIAA gold-certified in early November 2005, just weeks after its release.

The fifth stop on her first solo tour in nearly ten years, was at Foxwoods Resort Casino on March 17, 2006. She performed in the 1,400-seat Fox Theater, which was nearly sold-out.

As the curtain rose (I love being in a theater where the curtain still rises), Toni strutted out, looking like a true R&B diva. She was wearing a sunshine-yellow mini-dress with, what must have been a thousand, dangling crystals. Her ankle-strap shoes were dyed and be-dazzled to match. She also wore a voluminous red wig and a mega-watt smile.

She had a five-piece band behind her and four dancer/singers backing her up.

As she sang her first songs, she seemed to be working on getting her bearing, getting used to being on stage and remembering what her voice can do. She easily danced through some standard-issue choreography with her back-up dancers. She seemed to be testing herself as she sang and danced. Testing how hard she should sing a lyric or dance a step.

After a couple of songs, she grew more comfortable and became visibly more relaxed and confident. She and her dancers moved smoothly through some Fosse/Cabaret-esqe choreography that was more intricate than I expected it to be.

The evening was a retrospective of her 15-year recording career. She guided the audience effortlessly through all of her biggest hits; while being sure to include plugs for tracks on her new album. She gave Babyface respect by making sure that the audience knew that he had written much of the new material on her new album.

Ms. Braxton had many costume changes during the evening. Each successive costume was sexier and more glamourous than the last. The changes were incredibly quick and her re-entrances invariably drew gasps and shouts from an audience that was stunned by her beauty.

She performed a re-mix style, dance version of "Spanish Guitar" which was not a big top-forty hit, but was a big dance hit in 2000, especially in gay clubs.

Throughout the evening she asked gentlemen from the audience to come on stage and sing or dance with her a bit, while she sang. This can always be a risky proposition, and the men who got on the stage were of all shapes, sizes, ages and talent. Ms. Braxton handled each of these situations with aplomb, game for whoever made it up on stage.

For the finale' Ms. Braxton sang an extended version of "Un-break My Heart". She was dressed in an over-the-top, school-boy outfit, complete with tie and hat, but sans trousers. She ventured out into the audience and made her way from male lap to male lap while she sang. Two-dozen men had, an unbelievably sexy, Toni Braxton sitting on their lap while she sang to them. These men's reactions, and the audience's reaction to there reactions, created a warm camaraderie between audience members.

The lighting designer/technician on the show was incredible. Two moments of the show had the drama ramped up exponentially because of lighting. The first was the back-lighting of the drummer during his solo. The lighting created movement and shadows that moved throughout the entire theater. Genius. The second moment of note was during one of Ms. Braxton's entrances. She was on the top of a staircase and the only lights on stage were two pin-point lights that illuminate her face and decolletage. Stunning.

The set was, unfortunately, designed so that folks in the mezzanine of the theater could, inadvertantly, see into the "backstage" part of the set. A good deal of the audience was privy to the behind the scenes running around of technicians and dressers.

If last night's audience is any indication of the public's appreciation of Ms. Braxton's talent, this should be a great tour. If Ms. Braxton can do what she did last night, every night: there is no need for the echo, back-tracks and dialed-up band that was used last night. More Toni, less technology, would be better.

Ms. Braxton can sing in such a low key and has an incredibly broad, beautiful range when she sings. She begins some songs in very deep, sultry tones; then she rumbles, roars and soars through notes and phrasing like no one else.

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From This Author Randy Rice

Randy Rice currently resides in Providence, RI with his husband Aron. His love affair with live performance began in 1988 when he saw Sammy Davis (read more...)

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