Jennifer on nice

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS DREAM Recently celebrating her 50th birthday, Jennifer Holliday has returned to the recording studio. But first, she sings with the Turtles on Wednesday.

Broadway legend Jennifer Holliday is telling us she’s not going … to miss a concert with the Turtle Creek Chorale

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Every since her debut nearly 30 years, when she originated the role of Effie White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, introducing the now-legendary showstopper “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” Jennifer Holliday has had a voice that many people dream about. Even after another Jennifer (Hudson) performed the role in the 2006 film version of Dreamgirls (winning an Oscar for it) and following countless imitators who use the song as their go-to anthem for showcasing vocal prowess, it’s Holliday’s electrifying version that lingers in the mind.

She’s flattered of course that, decades later, people continue to perform her signature song on shows like American Idol, though she has some ideas about the changes in the music industry in general.

“I think it’s a different standard these days in what they’re looking for in terms of talent,” she says of show business in general, but while discussing the Fox singing competition directly. “I’m not knocking it. I’m glad that American Idol let them sing it again this year because I get paid! If they sing it or play it, I get paid. So it’s all right with me!”

You might expect her to cringe at the often-horrendous attempts to belt out like only she can, but Holliday’s perspective is far more positive.

“You can say, on the one hand, why would they do something so stupid to try to sing it? But on the other hand, you’ve got to have something in you — you’ve gotta have balls,” she says. “You’ve gotta have some guts to be in show business and if you can start there, if you’ve got enough inside of you to say, ‘I want to reach to those type of heights, this is the only song I know that means success, that means that you’ve arrived, so I’m gonna try it.’”

You don’t need to settle for imitators anymore, though; Holliday joins the Turtle Creek Chorale on Wednesday for a concert called, appropriately enough, One Night Only. (That’s also a song from Dreamgirls.)

Holliday continues to stress how going for your dreams is to be admired from young singers.

“I think it says a lot about a person that they try [a difficult song,” she says. “That’s a bar of excellence and that’s where [they] want to be. I very seldom laugh at the people who try, because their courage inspires me more. So if they think that they can arrive singing a Jennifer Holliday song, I can’t help but be flattered.”

Holliday herself pursued her dreams, much like Effie White, and it certainly paid off. The winner of a Tony Award and two Grammy Awards, Holliday has enjoyed a successful Broadway and recording career, though she admits she’s not as prolific as some other singers when it comes to albums.

“It’s a lot different for me,” she says. “I haven’t actually recorded in about 17 years. A lot of stuff people are buying online has been reproduced and put back out, so I run into people who say, ‘I bought one of your new songs on iTunes,’ and I’m like, ‘Honey, that ain’t new, but I’m glad you like it!’ I feel really fortunate for the few recordings I did make. I don’t have a lot — I only have five CDs. For people to hear that music now and still think that it’s something new, I’m grateful. People miss my voice being out there, I guess. It’s also that the people who worked on my CDs in the past put out a quality recording that has stood up to time.”

Fans no longer have to wait, thanks to two new albums dropping this year. The first, arriving next month, is a gospel music project called Goodness & Mercy she completed with her pastor, Dr. Raphael G. Warnock.

“It’s a unique kind of project in that it actually has a sermon on it from the pastor of my church, so it’s spoken word and music together,” she says.

“We collaborated on it and it’s a very hopeful CD in a sense that it’s going to really target trying to get people through some hard times, the recession and everything. Things are getting better, but I really wanted to do something that would really give people hope.”

Her second album, coming out in the summer “or fall at the latest,” returns to some classic territory.

“It’s all love songs, jazz standards,” she says. “It’s called Love is on the Way. I did cover tunes of ‘The Look of Love’ by Burt Bacharach, ‘At Last’ by Etta James, quite a few of those types of classics.”

Both albums were the result of a milestone life event last October: Turning 50.

“I was trying to think of a gift to give myself — nothing silly like diamonds or anything like that. I thought, what if I start singing again? So I went into the recording studio and the music just started pouring out to me. I think this is what I want to give myself, but hopefully give to others. I hope that they like it.”

In fact, it’s been so long since her last stint in a recording studio, she was taken aback by technology.

“I didn’t even know they didn’t use tape any more!” she laughs. “They record everything in a little box. So I have my whole future in a little tiny box that I have in a fireproof safe in my home. But I feel like my voice is better than ever, still strong and powerful and high. I guess I look at that as being most fortunate of all, that I still have my chops and that’s still intact.”

Those chops will be on display at next week’s concert with the Turtles.

“While there is no actual theme to this concert, the subtext is all about heart and soul,” explains Jonathan Palant, artistic director of the chorale. “Of course, we want to feature some of the hits from Dreamgirls, so Jennifer will perform ‘One Night Only’ and ‘I Am Changing.’ She’ll also join the Chorale for Gloria Estefan’s ‘Coming Out of the Dark’ and Bill Withers’ biggest hit, ‘Lean on Me,’ among others.”

Performing with gay men’s choruses is just one of the things that keeps Holliday busy, but turning 50 was only the beginning.

“I’m holding up, all my old stuff is being re-circulated, and thank God I’m young enough that I can still make something new.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘Dream’ on

A true Broadway opera, the national tour of ‘Dreamgirls’ rocks

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

The Dreamettes
AND I’M TELLING YOU, I’M GOING | The Dreamettes climb the pop charts on the back of a former member in the Supremes fantasy ‘Dreamgirls.’

DREAMGIRLS
Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Ave. Through July 18. $30–$85. DallasSummerMusicals.org.
……………………..

It’s odd that when we talk about modern opera, no one ever mentions Dreamgirls, the 1981 musical that fictionalizes the emergence of Motown. It’s got all the elements of genuine opera: Bigger than life and deeply flawed characters, extreme highs and lows, important themes and soaring music. It’s tragedy with a happy ending and a funky, constant R&B soundtrack.

Of course, the gays have always known that Dreamgirls had the cred; the Act 1 closing number “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” has been a drag anthem almost since the original production made Jennifer Holliday a star. But the show, like opera itself, can be problematic: The leading character, powerhouse plus-size singer Effie (Moya Angela), is passed over in favor of the sweet-voiced, prettier Deena (Syesha Mercado). But Effie is also a pill and a prima donna — is it all about talent or does attitude matter?

The touring show at Fair Park Music Hall doesn’t do much to illuminate these complexities, but this non-Equity production benefits immensely from Angela, some fabulous costumes and a minimal set punctuated by a giant Jumbotron of a video wall that adds a sense of contemporary flashiness.

Even all those positives are outshone, though, by Chester Gregory. As Jimmy Thunder Early — a high-energy mélange of James Brown and Little Richard — Gregory is smooth and predatory, and he’s got the moves and the voice to electrify an audience. The show is his.

Too bad Chaz Lamar Shepard as Curtis barely registers. He’s sleazy as the Berry Gordy like manipulator, but there’s no personality. Mercado also falters. The title song needs to establish the new Dreams as a potent girl group, but on press night, Mercado sounded like she was at 50 percent. Still, former America Idol star gets top billing. It’s as if talent doesn’t matter as much as surface appearance.
Sounds familiar.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens