Sensual vocals, soaring instrumental solos, and compositions of several genres filled Artpark Mainstage Theater on Thursday night. Vanessa Williams, singer/actor and an avowed Buffalover, appeared with her band of two decades (a repeated fun fact), and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. BPO resident conductor, and summer season leader, Stefan Sanders, conducted.
Artpark executive director Sonia Clark welcomed the near-capacity audience: "Have a good time tonight – the program, it's beautiful." Williams also remarked on beauty: that of the BPO strings, and the mad skills of associate principal cellist Feng Hew, showcased during a number from Harold Arlen's musical "House of Flowers," a stated Williams favorite.
The BPO opened with the rousing overture to "Candide," Leonard Bernstein's 1950's comic operetta based on Voltaire's political satire. Williams, resplendent in diamonds and a black and white gown, created a program of several of her R&B hits and Broadway songs.
Williams said that several of her family members and friends were in attendance. "Skrip! Skrip is in the house," referring to her husband Jim Skrip of Depew, who she famously married in Buffalo in 2016.
"The Real Thing," show opener, had Williams gushing about the joy of singing with a live orchestra: "Such a gift!" Having seen several BPO-band collaborations, this was the best balancing of both band and orchestral talent: everyone was heard, best evidenced during "Dreamin'," one of her signature ballads.
[Related: Tim O'Shei interviews Vanessa Williams before her show]
Before "The Right Stuff" (band only) she announced her upcoming album. "It will be out this year, and it's going to be a jazz album." A standing ovation followed "Work to Do," with incredible backup vocalist Carmen Ruby Floyd, before expected show closer, "Save the Best for Last."
"I can't leave this. Let's make it sassy," Williams said, before encore "Betcha Never" with flamenco flourishes. Williams and Floyd twirled their longs skirts, dancing to the beauty.
Vanessa Williams and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
July 19 at Artpark, Lewiston.