Cynthia Erivo performed her show Hear My Soul at Kings Place, London.
Star rating: 5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
If proof were needed that Cynthia Erivo is a major force to be reckoned with (and it’s not needed, as far as I’m concerned), it was delivered in spades at the beautiful – if acoustically a bit dry – Hall One in Kings Place, London, with Hear My Soul, her solo concert debut. And what a debut!
Sitting just three rows back, it felt like I was part of a devout congregation: I could feel the intense love in the air for this diminutive diva, and at times it was impossible not to be swept up in the almost-religious fervour that her singing invoked. Song after song, goosepimples rippled up my arms and neck, and grown men around me were reduced to tears. Seriously, to tears…
Erivo has already enjoyed great success since graduating from RADA in 2010, so it’s no surprise that she’s not had the opportunity to front her own concert. Already her CV would be the envy of even the most experienced of actresses: Madeleine in Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Gielgud), Dolores van Cartier in the UK tour of Sister Act; a highly praised and award-winning turn as Celie in The Color Purple (Menier); the lead, Chenice, in the ill-fated and prematurely pulled I Can’t Sing! (Palladium); and Dessa in the European premiere of Dessa Rose (Trafalgar). And these are just the musical highlights in the 27-year-old’s resumé.
Another reason for the delay in her solo career is Erivo’s own assertion that until now she wasn’t ready. “I’ve hesitated previously,” she explains in the programme, “because I did not believe I was ready to give you a show that I believe you deserve… I hope you leave feeling like I’ve opened up to you, everything I am as a performer and a person.”
Well, open up she did, and in doing has surely established herself as the major star she deserves to be. It was a powerful, heart-wrenching couple of hours that revealed not just the extent of her incredible voice, but also her talents as a songwriter and – yes, I’m saying it – her beauty as a human being.
Mixed in between a handful of show tunes – a heavenly ‘Over the Rainbow’, an equally tender and exquisite ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, and an absolutely outstanding ‘One Night Only’ from Dreamgirls (someone needs to snap this woman up and make this show happen now) – were some of Erivo’s own compositions. These included the fragile opening number ‘Signal’, which set the gentle tone for the first half of the night (“it’s about love, a love story in all its forms”).
If you weren’t already in love with this beautiful talent, another of her self-penned songs, ‘Fly Before You Fall’, certainly sealed the deal. Simple, with beautiful harmonies from backing singer Nicky Swift, this affecting ballad knocked the audience for six and proved overwhelmingly emotional for Erivo, who had to pause briefly between verses to compose herself. Another emotional peak was her duet with partner Dean John-Wilson, who guested with Erico in a beautiful arrangement of John Legend’s ‘All of Me’.
The first half ended with ‘Masterpiece’ by Jazmine Sullivan, which showcased the talents of guitarist Danny Short and drummer James Turner with its funky arrangement, provided – as were all musical scorings – by MD Tom Deering. Currently the MD for Made in Dagenham, Deering did a sterling job of leading his five-piece band from the grand piano, and his interpretation of this R&B song was particularly exciting and uplifting; it’s a testament to his arrangement skills that he somehow managed to end the number with an extract from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata!
For the Act II, Erivo returned to the stage – to great cheers – having changed from her black and white trouser suit into a gorgeous red evening dress (courtesy of stylist Gok Wan). The more upbeat second half opened with ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, Erivo clearly channelling the late Whitney Houston.
Bravo Daniel Weiss on the jazz organ in this and the following number, ‘Ain’t No Way’, a church-like spiritual originally performed by Aretha Franklin. With this 1968 B-side, Erivo really found her voice, and delved ever deeper into her emotions. By the end of the song, she was practically retching up her soul, deservedly earning the first of three ecstatic standing ovations – not bad for just the second item of the act.
Another Dreamgirls number (‘And I am Telling You’) ended the main event, but after another ovation there was no way the audience was going to let Erivo leave without an encore. The choice was perfect, too, neatly summing up a classy, sophisticated and soulful evening: ‘I’m Here’ from The Color Purple.
“I’m beautiful,” sings the character of Celie at the close of the song, “Yes, I’m beautiful, And I’m here.” Yes you are, Cynthia – you most certainly are.
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