Gracefully wrapped in a maroon chiffon gown that was off the shoulder and decorated with gemstone appliques, Williams showed off her well-toned body. Still, all present were privy to the powerful voice that made her a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy nominee throughout her career. She wove through the intimate cabaret as she made her way onstage.
In celebration of the holiday season, Williams sang one of the traditional Christmas tunes, Greensleeves. The applause was resounding, and it continued throughout the entire concert. She followed with her first top 40 hit Dreamin’, from her debut studio album from 1988, which was her first number-one hit on the Billboard R and B chart.
The song that roused the sold-out crowd was the Oscar winner for Best Original Song Colors of the Wind from the Disney movie Pocahontas, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Williams performed the song at the 68th Annual Academy Awards ceremony in 1996 and she released the song, which became a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Her presentation at 54 Below was no less stirring and powerfully delivered.
Williams talked about her daughter, who is a singer as well. She remarked she had been married three times and dedicated the rich yet contemptuous song Who Were You Thinkin’ Bout? to one of the three, letting the audience guess who it was about. This song brought about rippling laughter from the audience, and Williams performed it with her personal touch.
The talent in her band was JT Lewis on the drums, who Williams said has played with everyone, Al Caldwell and Keith Robinson.
Williams shared she had starred in the 2010 Broadway musical Sondheim on Sondheim at Studio 54 and worked with the amazing Barbara Cook, who she said was “lovely, spunky but had a mouth on her.” Williams sang Sondheim’s Losing My Mind with vocalist Shelley Thomas-Harts, reminding us how we miss the gifted songwriter.
Guests at 54 Below knew there was one last song they wanted to hear, coming from the woman who is comfortable on Broadway, on a concert stage, or in a nightclub, but I don’t want to give more spoiler alerts. Williams sang two songs for her encore with a thunderous standing ovation. I strongly suggest you see her in this hospitable setting before she leaves.
54 Below Diamond Series Presents Vanessa Williams, with Al Caldwell, Keith Robinson, JT Lewis and Shelley Thomas-Harts. Running now through December 18.
54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, NYC. Tickets and information: (646)476-3551