With a show that lives up to its title, Nicole Henry’s return to 54Below offers glamour and exuberance. A fusion of R & B, Pop, and American Songbook, the evening displays Henry’s warmth, sex appeal and meticulous, heady vocals. An, open-throated “Feeling Good” (Leslie Bricusse/ Anthony Newley) opens the show, shimmying with winner-take-all pleasure.
The artist’s “It’s Almost Like Being in Love” (Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Lowe) spotlights awareness of lyric meaning. Not only does the music visibly course through her, but she exhibits convincing emotional core with every facial expression and graceful gesture.
Ballads like “Little Boy (Girl) Blue” (Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz) with very cool bass and whispering cymbals are especially vivid. Henry’s phrasing strays just enough from the traditional to add personal nuance. McCoy Tyner/ Sammy Cahn’s “You Taught My Heart to Sing” finds her honeyed vocal dancing hip to hip with David Cook’s musing piano. We hear as much gratitude as love.
Seducing front row audience – “it’s been fifteen months and it’s that kind of song!” – she leans out, flirting through an introduction to “When Did You Leave Heaven?” (Richard A. Whiting/ Walter Bullock) “Tell me sweetheart, how did you lose your wings?” Henry purrs.
A rallying cry to Pride Month and the new national holiday Juneteenth includes songs by and/or popularized by George Michael, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Chaka Khan. Wrapped up in the message of “Freedom” (George Michael, who was gay), Henry doesn’t look at her audience for the first time: “Freedom (I won’t let you down)/Freedom (I will not give you up)/Freedom (Gotta have some faith in the sound)/ You’ve got to give what you take (It’s the one good thing that I’ve got)” surges from her.
Three songs act as prelude to the upcoming repeat of Henry’s Whitney Huston tribute: “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (George Merrill/ Shannon Rubicam) provokes notable dancing in chairs. “Take Me for What I Am” (L.C. Cooke) with emotion rising like a geyser, stills the room. “Share my life/Take me for what I am/’Cause I’ll never change/All my colors for you…”
A sincere rendition of “I Have Nothing” (David Foster/Linda Thompson) sends notes flying, yet one barely sees her take a breath. With a nod to Khan, “I’m Every Woman” (Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson) elicits spontaneous, rhythmic clapping. How Henry steps and swirls in what look like six-inch stilettos is a marvel! She’s infectiously joyful. These songs are evangelical.
Caveats: An insistently up tempo “Happy Talk” (Richard Rodgers/ Oscar Hammerstein) arrives by way of a dense arrangement that’s unrecognizable. “I’ve Got a Lotta Living to Do” (Lee Adams/Charles Strouse) is deftly bookended by George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Ann-Margret sizzled like a kitten with the song in Bye Bye Birdie. This performer comes on Mac-truck woman, practically showering sparks. Alas, its musical break travels to the outback.A matter of taste?
A closing “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” (Henry Nemo), accompanied by a piano one can sense breathe, drifts down like early autumn leaves. It’s savored and simply lovely.
Opening Photo by Leesa Richards Courtesy of Nicole Henry
The artist is personable, appealing and multi-talented. A fine evening.
Feeling Good will be repeated at 54Below on June 27, 2021
Nicole Henry – Whitney Houston will be presented September 14, 2021
54Below is for now limiting its audience. Tables are further apart, some separated by plexi. Proof of vaccination is required. Otherwise, one has no sense of adjustment. Dinner was quite good btw.
David Cook- MD/Piano
Avi Rothbard- Guitar