Jennifer Holliday is best known for her now-legendary, Tony Award-winning performance as Effie Melody White in the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls. The singer returns to New York City December 26-29 to play the supper club 54 Below and to celebrate the release of her new CD, The Song Is You. TheaterMania chatted with the legend about this album, how her music has changed, and why the internet has given her an opportunity she may not have otherwise had.
1. What brings you to 54 Below?
I have a new CD that is coming out in January. I'll be performing a few songs from that, and then, of course, I have my signature song from Dreamgirls. I have to sing that song in every building. I cannot get out unless I sing the song.
2. What's on this new CD?
It's a mixture of jazz standards and R&B classics, and a few cover tunes, arranged to go more with my style. It's my first one in twenty-three years; my last secular album was in 1991. That was all R&B, though. This one, I wanted to show a little bit about my growth. I had been working on the road with symphonies and big bands. It stretched my music and I've grown. I had worked many years with Marvin Hamlisch and he taught me a lot. There's a song dedicated to him on the album.
3. Is there a difference in recording albums today than in the past?
Technology is sure different. I was surprised to see that everything goes through a little box [a computer]. There's no tape [to record on]! You can [digitally] put a whole symphony [on an album] as well on one song. I say, "I think I'm gonna do 200 takes on this song," and there's no problem. That has changed. The internet allows us to reach an audience we never had access to before. 4. How so?
Everything is based on YouTube. You can become a YouTube sensation. That opportunity has never been available to us before. I feel fortunate — because of the reality shows, the young people have made me relevant to this part of the millennium. I'm not technically a recording star; I'm a Broadway star. They have allowed me to reenter with relevancy, only because of Googling me and searching me and doing my music on American Idol and The Voice.
5. Do you miss performing on Broadway?
I do miss Broadway… there's nothing like live theater. I'm grateful for it. Had I not had my training in that first, I don't think I would have done so well in being a survivor and having my voice intact. You have to do eight shows and you have to keep your instrument intact and create magic each night. I was very fortunate to have been in the process of creating a role, which I don't think a lot of people have the opportunity to do. That alone allows a different experience, unique unto itself.