BWW Review: CHRISTOPHER JACKSON Exudes Swagger at an Intimate Kennedy Center Concert

BWW Review: CHRISTOPHER JACKSON Exudes Swagger at an Intimate Kennedy Center Concert

On Saturday night, Washington, D.C. had a visit from one of the most popular American presidents and, while thoughts of a certain musical about a founding father hung over the evening, George Washington delivered a charming concert in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. To clarify, Mr. Washington himself was unavailable for the evening since he's been dead for two centuries. Christopher Jackson, however, who received a Tony nomination for his portrayal of our first president, served as a great alternative.

Mr. Jackson has a storied Broadway career including star turns in Lin-Manuel Miranda's first Tony-winning musical, In the Heights, and as Simba in the Disney smash hit, The Lion King. His set list for this intimate performance left the Great White Way behind in favor of jazzy and blues-infused selections. Whether the song choices were expected or not, they were overall a perfect fit for Mr. Jackson's smooth vocals. Throughout his performance, Christopher created an emotional journey filled with tears, laughter and plenty of love for the receptive audience.

From the beginning of the set, Mr. Jackson had the crowd in the palm of his hand. After the announcer's microphone experienced some technical difficulties, Mr. Jackson strolled to center stage and cheerily introduced himself, prompting a round of applause from the audience. His first tune, a mash-up of "Love's in Need of Love Today" and "For Once in My Life," lifted the performance, allowing Mr. Jackson to slowly build from Stevie Wonder's calm ballad to one of his most rollicking and well-known numbers.

Christopher Jackson may have one of the most natural rapports with a band in recent memory. The four piece set (Bennett Paster on piano, Abe Fogle on drums, Rob Jost on bass, and John Putnam playing guitar) jammed out well with one another and played along with all of Mr. Jackson's jokes. Before beginning a soulful rendition of "John Henry," Mr. Jackson and Mr. Putnam, played around with the dramatic beginning to that tune. Every time that Mr. Jackson would grunt, Mr. Putnam responded with an aggressive cord. The two of them had a joyous time going back and forth with one another. So much so that it took several minutes for that number to begin after it had been announced.

Sure, Mr. Jackson was able to have plenty of fun during his performance but he was also incredibly vulnerable with the Kennedy Center crowd. He shared an emotional story about his grandparents that led to him writing the tune, "Invisible." Much of the audience, and Christopher himself, were in tears by the end of the number. Additional ballads like Radiohead's "High and Dry" packed their own emotional punch as well-but none were quite as potent as the powerful "Invisible."

Of course, Christopher made a handful of obligatory mentions to Hamilton. Except for a brief excerpt from "Alexander Hamilton," however, the work wasn't performed. Having expected one or two Hamil-tunes going into the performance, I personally had some initial disappointment about the work's exclusion on the set list. After some reflection, however, it was nice to be able to separate Mr. Jackson from such a pervasive work. As he mentioned in the performance, he would appreciate more people doing that. If you want to win over the Tony nominee, just say hi to him when you see him on the street. There's no need to make a Hamilton joke or reference-he's heard them all.

Perhaps the most interesting fact gleaned during Mr. Jackson's concert was the fact that he loves Elvis Presley movies. That wasn't actually the most interesting thing, but it was the piece of trivia that embarrassed Mr. Jackson the most. After he admitted his love of Elvis films, he implored the press to not publish that information. Unfortunately, he learned too late that you aren't able to retroactively take something off the record. I felt, in the name of my journalistic integrity, that I was obligated to share this vital information about Mr. Jackson.

Almost everything about Christopher's set was perfect. And then he whips out Pharrell Williams' "Happy" as the penultimate song of his performance (it was the last number he sang before a brief encore). The arrangement was better than expected and the song was truncated but the overly repetitive and over-exposed chorus remained. After such a smooth and soulful performance, the choice of "Happy" seemed out-of-place with the rest of the programming. But when only one of your fourteen songs is imperfect, that's still pretty great.

In the audience was Mr. Jackson's family, including his wife and daughter. No matter how amazing Christopher was, his daughter was the one who stole the evening's spotlight. At multiple points, the younger Jackson often won the adoration of the audience. Whether she was heckling her father from her seat or singing happy birthday to him with her mother, Veronica Vazquez-Jackson, Christopher's daughter proved that she was indeed the offspring of two performers.

When breaking away from his music, Mr. Jackson's musings remained incredibly personal and avoided many mentions of current political tensions. His one allusion to current strife was a casual mention of how the week had been difficult in Washington. The audience, all still fresh from their dealings with the Supreme Court hearings, were all too familiar with Mr. Jackson's sentiments. Even with current tensions, Mr. Jackson made sure to emphasize "I love Washington. I know you don't hear that often, but I do." Based on the reaction of this adoring crowd, the feeling was very much mutual.

Christopher Jackson played his one-night-only concert on September 29 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. His performance is part of the Renée Fleming VOICES series. For information and tickets to future Renée Fleming VOICES concerts, click here. For information on additional Kennedy Center programming, click here.


BWW Review: CHRISTOPHER JACKSON Exudes Swagger at an Intimate Kennedy Center Concert

Sam Abney is a Washington, D.C. based arts professional. A native of Arizona, he has happily made D.C. his new home. Sam is a graduate from George Mason University with a degree in Communication and currently works for Arena Stage as a member of their Development team. He is a life-long lover of theater and is excited about sharing his passion with as many people as possible.

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