BWW Review: Renee Elise Goldsberry Revives the Spirit in Concerts with The Nashville Symphony
Last week, while talking with Tony Award-winning actress/singer/songwriter Renee Elise Goldsberry - during which we discussed her upcoming series of concerts with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra - she responded to my query about how much of "Renee" is in each of the myriad characters by which she's come to be known and loved by her legions of fans.
"They're all me," she answered. "Everything I do, every character, is me...and when I perform in concert, I try my best to be as open as I can so that audiences can get to know and understand me better."
Walking out of Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Friday night, every member of the audience - who for two hours sat on the edge of their seats, held completely in her thrall - felt as if they know and understand her, thanks to the intimate nature of her convivial spirit and all-encompassing warmth during the concert, offering proof that Goldsberry is her genuine and authentic self in every single thing she does.
To be certain, on the second of three such evenings during which Goldsberry stands in front of the Grammy Award-winning musicians (who, doubtless, are as thrilled to play for and with Goldsberry, who's also a Grammy winner, as she is to be with them) to deliver a dazzling concert of American pop standards, songs from her noteworthy Broadway resume (which includes The Lion King and Rent, in addition to the musical theater behemoth/pop culture phenomenon known as Hamilton) and tunes especially designed to elicit a strong reaction from her adoring audience, Renee Elise Goldsberry led a spiritual revival of sorts in which every audience member was eager to be a part of, even if they were unaware of it while entering the auditorium.
Whether you've followed her career since she started out on One Life to Live, first fell in love with her as The Good Wife's Geneva Pine, became an acolyte to the power of her performance as Hamilton's Angelica Schuyler, appreciated the depth of her performance as Henrietta Lacks in the HBO film, or were intrigued by her performance as Quellquest Falconer in Netflix's Altered Carbon - or if you first came to know her thanks to a holiday gift of tickets to her Pops Series performance with the Nashville Symphony - you are destined to leave the Schermerhorn wildly, passionately, devotedly in love with Renee Elise Goldsberry. And, amid these troubled times in which we are currently living, you will be grateful for the shared experience.
Renee Elise Goldsberry: The woman. The singer. The entertainer. She's all that and so very much more -with a persona that radiates from the stage she emanates enough star power and high-voltage energy to keep you riveted to her every turn of phrase, every beautiful note sung - and she instantly transports you away from the troubles of the real world to an idealized refuge of music, hope and love, where her heart and soul is invested in making everything new, unique and to your liking.
Renee Elise Goldsberry has that resolute, near idefinable, ability: you only need to give yourself over to her, to tap into her power, just as audiences already have in her first two appearances (Thursday and Friday, January 17 and 18)) with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, under the skilled baton of Enrico Lopez-Yanez, the charming and handsome young conductor for the Pop Series.
The Symphony, led by Lopez-Yanez, opens the evening in fine, high-flying and theatrical style with their thrilling performance of the Overture to Gypsy, which is arguably the finest ever written for the musical theater; every note, every movement somehow captures the joy of one of the finest Broadway musicals ever to play virtually every stage the world over. Odds are, no matter how many times you've heard the orchestra, Lopez-Yanez and his musicians perform it with such alacrity and stunning professionalism that you will feel as if you're hearing it for the first time. And that's just the appetizer for what is to come during the evening.
When Goldsberry takes the stage, looking every inch of her to be the star that she is, she dazzles the audience with her performance of a mash-up of "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever" and Stevie Wonder's "I Can See Clearly Now" that introduces her optimistic world view with boundless energy. She follows that up with a startling performance of Curtis Mayfield's "People, Get Ready," the 1965 hit by The Impressions, that ideally encapsulates Goldsberry's spirit and her theme for the concert.
"I'm having a hard time staying 'woke' with everything that's going on in the world," she confesses. "Whenever I go to tune in and see what's happening, I realize I just want to turn everything off."
"It's exhausting being mad all the time," Goldsberry contends, leading her to choose songs that help to uplift her audience's spirits and to "stir our souls."
"We need to love each other," she proclaims. "So, tonight in Nashville, we are taking risks, singing songs we haven't sung before Nashville, changing words of famous songs, doing new arrangements..."
Her heartfelt exhortations to the people in Schermerhorn Symphony Center are genuine and authentic, providing the perfect segue to "My Imagination" and a moving interpretation of a song by Americana Music Association's 2007 Artist of the Year Patty Griffin, one of Nashville's most enduring talents.
With a soulful tribute to the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin ("Bridge Over Troubled Water" never sounded so good nor so current), Goldsberry recalls a funny memory she shares with Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda about a phone call he received from the diva in which she asked for tickets to his sold-out Broadway show, in which she exclaimed that one of her neighbors in Detroit has a daughter (Goldsberry) who's in the cast. Unfortunately, Aretha never made it to the show, Goldsberry explains.
From there, the first act moves on to the rousing, gospel-flavored revival atmosphere filled with the spirit - and featuring a moving rendition of Thomas A. Dorsey's "If You See My Savior" and Sweet Honey in the Rock's "I'm On My Way To Freedom Land" that showcases not only Goldsberry, but her trio of extraordinary back-up singers - that ultimately leads to the first standing ovation of the evening to close out the first stanza.
Goldsberry starts her concert's second act with an equally uplifting and startling sense of revival with a tribute to three of music's most beloved women - Nancy Wilson, Pearl Bailey and Sarah Vaughan - opening with Wilson's "How Glad I Am," followed by Bailey's "Beat Out That Rhythm on a Drum" from Carmen Jones and Vaughan's "Misty." Goldsberry's awe-inspiring interpretation of "Misty," performed with her own jazz combo and all the musicians of the Nashville Symphony, might be called the highlight of the concert if the musical program weren't already overflowing with perceived highlights.
Her salute to Wilson, Bailey and Vaughan is special to Goldsberry because paying homage to the trio and other legendary women of music proves that "women were powerful before we got a hashtag!"
After performing "Shadowland" from The Lion King, she gave an award-worthy performance of two songs from Hamilton: "Satisfied" and "The Schuyler Sisters," which brought her audience to their feet for her second standing ovation of the night, proving the magnitude of Hamilton's popularity and heralding what is expected to be an SRO run of the behemoth musical production at nearby Tennessee Performing Arts Center during its 2019-20 season. I've already messaged my friends at TPAC to send flowers for Goldsberry for her help to ensure the show will indeed be sold out.
Favorite songs from Rent (Goldsberry played Mimi in the closing cast of the musical's 2007 revival on Broadway) and a couple of encores resulted in two, maybe three (depending upon how you count them) more standing ovations before Goldsberry, her singers and musicians all left the stage.
Renee Elise Goldsberry returns to the stage of Schermerhorn Symphony Center tonight for her final Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend concert, after which she heads back to Vancouver to continue shooting season two of Altered Carbon.
Renee Elise Goldsberry with the Nashville Symphony. January 17-19 at The Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville For tickets and other details, go to www.nashvillesymphony.org or call (615) 687-6400. Running time: 2 hours (with one 20-minute intermission).