There was a moment after intermission at Cynthia Erivo’s Hollywood Bowl show when she returned to the stage with no shoes on. She wanted her feet to touch the ground. She was taking everything in, and that called for her heels to come off. Until last week, Erivo had never even set foot in the iconic Los Angeles venue, let alone performed in it.
Friday night changed that, as the Emmy-nominated and multi-hyphenate singer, actress, songwriter and author took to the stage for the first time and belted out a plethora of tunes accompanied by the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. Despite worries about the increased cases of the Delta variant In L.A. County, fans, press and a lot of Emmy voters came out to see Erivo in her Bowl debut. Very few concert-goers wore masks, social distancing was not required and per the Bowl, proof of vaccination was not required for entry. The audience, it seemed, was just glad to be back at the Bowl, and it wasn’t until the show was over that masks came back on.
Titled “Legendary Voices,” the night included covers of Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Nina Simone and Roberta Flack, as well as selections from Erivo’s upcoming debut release, “Ch.1 Vs.1.” Below, find four of the concert’s highlights.
Don’t Rain on My Parade
Erivo took to the stage shortly after 8 p.m. in a breathtaking white gown with puff sleeves that looked liked roses. It was the talk of the night — after her dazzling performance, of course.
What better way to kick off a Hollywood Bowl debut than with a dynamic rendition of Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” backed by the orchestra giving the song a full philharmonic treatment? It was the only Broadway number Erivo would sing. She won a Tony Award for her performance in “The Color Purple,” but didn’t perform any songs from it.
The night was a tribute to women, the legendary voices who have come before her. She did make one exception — performing Sting’s “Fragile” as her second tune of the night “to touch on the year we’ve been through,” as Erivo put it.
You’re Not Here
Erivo gave audiences a glimpse into her new album when she performed “You’re Not Here” from the forthcoming “Ch.1 Vs.1.”
She began the introduction by saying this was a moment that called for the song to be performed live for the very first time, “for those who feel alone.” Penned by Erivo, the personal song documents the journey of a young girl who drops out of school and loses sight of her dreams. “I wanted to run into your arms and cry while you held me,” Erivo sang during the soulful and haunting ballad drive by strong piano accompaniment.
The lyrics are searing and raw, and evoke many different kinds of loss. As Erivo wrapped the song, a closeup showed her in tears, but sniffles were heard all around the bowl as she was met with rapturous applause.
The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face
As the celebration of songs written by women continued, Erivo bantered with the audience, oozing confidence and charm and reveling in the historic moment for her. Before beginning the song, she shared a story about listening to her CD player in the back of a car growing up, while her mother played the radio. Oftentimes, Kate Bush would come on as Erivo was listening to the Eurythmics. She then sang a mashup that included Faith Evans and the 1983 Eurythmics classic “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” It was a melancholy version of “Sweet Dreams” that highlighted Erivo’s vocal ability to transform a classic into a compelling take. The orchestral melody was sensational for a first-time mashup.
But a dazzling highlight that enthralled the crowd was when Erivo delivered “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” the Roberta Flack classic. Erivo’s version was a soft but tremendous display of her vocals.
The empowering night of jazz, soul, classics and a sprinkle of Broadway ended on a fabulous high note – Aretha Franklin.
Erivo starred in National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha,” which scored her first Emmy nomination for lead actress in a limited or anthology series or movie. There were voting members in the audience, and Erivo may have just secured a few votes after her remarkable setlist, whether they’ve seen the series or not. Her belting ability was on full display.
She sent the crowd home on a high note with a successful adaptation of Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.” The audience didn’t want to leave, but with the Bowl’s strict curfew of 11 p.m. not too far off, they had no choice. She offered an encore and a cartwheel to end the night.
Even amid the confusion and concern about whether or not it’s safe to reopen, Erivo reminded audiences that live music can be a salve for the soul.