What Fred Astaire is to dance, Luther Vandross is to music.
Before an audience that included Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Barry Bonds, Mary Wilson and Dawnn Lewis, Vandross made good on his promise, “Y’all gonna get something in here tonight that y’all can’t get nowhere else, ’cause if there’s one thing we don’t do it’s play with your ticket money.”
This was a carefully crafted production — lavish and lush in all respects, including the specially designed revolving stage — that reflected the opulence of Vandross’ honeyed tenor vocal performance. This show reaffirmed Vandross as a rare talent and one of the greatest voices of our time.
It’s unusual that a show kicks off with a highlight and maintains that level, but Vandross is a master performer who has surrounded himself with like talents, such as musical director Nat Adderley Jr., who is chiefly responsible for Vandross’ most recognizable and sumptuous arrangements and who handled his live duties with grace.
Vandross heightened the excitement as he walked through the audience to the stage singing “Never Too Much” from his 1981 breakthrough release. Then, backup vocalists Lisa Fischer and Ava Cherry — wearing breathtaking gowns — and Kevin Owens, arrived onstage, and Vandross led them for more than two hours through his extensive repertoire of Grammy-winning, platinum-selling songs.
Listening to Vandross is like watching Michael Jordan at his best. The evocative power of his pure, passionate voice was particularly evident on older songs such as “Here and Now” and “Power of Love,” as well as songs from his current Luther Vandross Records release, “Never Let Me Go,” including “Little Miracles (Happen Every Day),””Heaven Knows” and “Too Far Down.”
Vandross’ emotional delivery of the ballad “A House Is Not a Home” turned it into an R&B aria.
The show also displayed a less wooden, more playful side to Vandross, possibly due to the slick yet balletic choreography of Lester Wilson (later re-staged by Vandross, Rick Rozzini and Anthony Thomas). Vandross bantered easily with his vocalists and surprisingly danced much more onstage than he has in recent years.
At one point during the show, Vandross temporarily relinquished his role as lead and allowed each of his backup vocalists, all artists with their own releases, a turn at the mike. Fischer, who has been groomed by Vandross, shined with “How Can I Ease the Pain,” which garnered her a Grammy.
Vandross ended the evening singing “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” as fake $ 1,000 bills drifted from the Forum’s ceiling.
Oleta Adams offered an opening set of songs from her recent Fontana/Mercury release “Evolution,” including “Easier to Say Goodbye” and “I Just Had to Hear Your Voice,” along with her signature pieces “Rhythm of Life” and “Get Here.”
Comedian Louis Dix warmed up the audience with his very funny and telling observations about life and, in particular, the state of things between men and women.