Jennifer Hudson Lives Out Another Dream On The Hollywood Bowl Stage Review+Photos: Jennifer Hudson @ Hollywood Bowl 7/6/18
HOLLYWOOD, CA- Chart topping, Grammy award winning recording artist. Accomplished screen actress with Academy and Golden Globe awards on her resume. Broadway star. Superbowl performer. White House guest (and friends with President Obama). There doesn’t seem to be much that Jennifer Hudson hasn’t accomplished. This Chicago R&B singer may not have won third season of American Idol, but she certainly has made a pretty big name for herself in the entertainment industry.
On July 6th and 7th, Ms. Hudson added a few more highlights to her already impressive resume by headlining two consecutive nights at the Hollywood Bowl, an event that she professed to the audience was something that she could only dream about back in the day. For Ms. Hudson, another one of her dreams would be fulfilled.
The musical fare for the evening commenced with the Hollywood Bowl orchestra (conducted by Thomas Wilkins) providing a lively performance of pieces by Duke Ellington (“The Giggling Rapids”), Leonard Bernstein (“Times Square” from On The Town), John Williams (“Marion’s Theme” from Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Alberto Ginastera (“Malambo” from Estancia”). The musical selections were apropos for the summer weather, light and excited, with exciting rhythms and familiar melodies. Despite the extremely warm weather (80+ degrees after the sun had set), the music was breezy and delightful, establishing a fun and capricious mood that would be the perfect appetizer for what was to come.
To say I was impressed with Jennifer Hudson’s Hollywood Bowl performance would be a huge understatement. I basically had to pick my jaw off the floor several times throughout the performance as I was pretty gobsmacked by how phenomenal Jennifer Hudson sounded on this evening. I was quite familiar with her repertoire, and having actually watched her compete on American Idol back in 2004, I was fully aware of how powerful her voice was. But watching her sing on TV or listen to an MP3 on your computer, and is nothing like seeing her perform live, with a full orchestra to boot.
With three solo albums, and the Dreamgirls soundtrack at her disposal, her set included selections from every part of her career. Kicking off the performance with the upbeat “Love You, I Do” from Dreamgirls, Jennifer, accompanied by a cadres of male and female dancers, reinvigorated the audience with a bit of life with some 60’s/70’s R&B. That song dove into a one of her more modern tracks that has the same musical theme, the Iggy Azaela collaboration “Trouble” (there was no special appearance by the Aussie rapper, though). A good portion of Jennifer’s entire performance had that classic retro R&B vibe to it, which I think perfectly suits her powerfully soulful vocals.
Again, I think I may be understating just how amazing Jennifer sounded this evening. Her voice was simply pristine, nailing all of the emotions with tenderness when needed, while also using the entirety of her breath support to gloriously wail heart-stopping choruses that we can only mouth the lyrics too because we surely couldn’t sing like how she was singing it.
There several other noteworthy moments form her performance, one such moment was when Jennifer ventured into audience to get those seated in the orchestra seats to get up and dance. It was fun to watch Jennifer get patrons, who clearly weren’t going to win a “best dancer” award any time soon, shake their groove things the best they could.
When she sang a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Halleljujah” (a song that she performs with Tori Kelly as a duet int he animated featured Sing), she made sure to mention that this was a song that was her “absolute favorite song to sing”. In an ambitious decision, she started the song without any accompaniment, and without a microphone. She simply allowed her naturally resonant voice to carry as far as it could. I had only seen one other singer attempt this, and that was Ben Harper and he was wailing a chorus. While I’m not sure the patrons up on in the nosebleed could hear what she was singing, I certainly could, and it had a few hairs on my neck stand at attention.
Towards the end of her set, Jennifer stated, ” I don’t take anything for granted. This is my dream,” before telling the audience that when she was young she used to sing Whitney Houston’s music around the house when she was growing up, harmonizing “I Will Always Love You” incessantly. In a beautiful moment of respect, Jennifer paid tribute to the late Ms. Houston with a sublime arrangement of “Saving All My Love For You”, which seamlessly segued into her signature Dreamgirls song “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going”, before walking off the stage after singing her last “You gonna love me”.
Jennifer came back onto the stage for an encore, but the truth of the matter is that the encore was just the nightcap. We were all still holding our collective breaths from the Whitney into Dreamgirls moment, and all just living in Jennifer Hudson’s Hollywood Bowl dream.