Looking Back: Vanessa Williams Holiday Concert with the BPO Magnificent!

Review by Matt Bauer

Ask Vanessa Williams about returning to live performance as  covid (hopefully) winds down  and the iconic, multitalented  diva is grateful and undeniably vivacious about hitting the stage once again.

“It’s great,“ exclaimed Williams by phone. “There’s nothing like seeing live theater and live performance because they’re always different, they always change. It’s  that human connection that you just don’t get through the  screen whether you’re watching Netflix for a zillion hours or a big movie. Hearing live music absorb you is wonderful, so I’m so happy that we’re somewhat back.”

That inimitable connection between the Grammy, Emmy, Tony nominated and NAACP Image award winner and her  audience was  palpable during her Holiday show at Kleinhans Music Hall with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Tuesday December 7.

From the first notes of her sumptuous 1988 hit “Dreamin’ “Williams proved a regal and magnetic presence and in magnificent voice throughout the ninety minute show. Split in two parts, the first half of the concert showcased hits like “Love Is,” the Oscar-winning “Colors of the Wind” (from “Pocahontas”)  and “The Sweetest Days” which were all performed assuredly.  The BPO (under the conduction of Ron Spigelman) added a majestic backdrop  especially on  “Children Will Listen” (from “Into The Woods”) which seemed especially poignant given the recent  passing of its composer Stephen Sondheim and “Bill” from “Showboat.”

A jazzy “What Child Is This”  inaugurated second half of the show which was holiday themed. The chemistry between her band and back up singer (Buffalo native Carmen Ruby Floyd) seemed especially abundant on an effervescent “Mary’s Boy Child” while the incandescent title track from 1996’s “Star Bright” (which Williams noted was her favorite holiday song to perform) was the high point of the show.  While  “ I Never Has Seen Snow” ( from the 1954 musical “ House of Flowers”) isn’t technically a Christmas song, Williams’ sultry vocals made it a toasty treat on a cold December night.

Then it was, in Williams’ words, “karaoke time” as the show closed with the now evergreen “Save the Best for Last” which had the crowd singing along and the playful strut of “I Betcha Never” which ended an evening of elegant Black Girl holiday magic with a little sizzle.


Challenger’s Long Time Entertainment Writer Matt Bauer