Jennifer Holliday, one of the biggest sensations Broadway has ever known, is performing solo in New York this week for the first time in more than a decade, with four shows for Valentine's Day at the Iridium jazz club. Holliday, of course, originated the role of Effie in Dreamgirls in the early '80s, and has continued to play the role (for which she won a Tony) in regional productions over the years. She last appeared on Broadway as Mama Morton in Chicago in 2001, and she sang her Dreamgirls anthem "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" on last May's season finale of American Idol.
Holliday's Iridium shows are at 8 and 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13, and at 7 and 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14. The club is featuring a special Valentine's menu for the performances, with a complimentary chocolate-covered strawberry served to all diners. BroadwayWorld previewed Holliday's show in an interview with her last week.
When was the last time you performed your own show in New York?
The last thing I did was for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at Town Hall in 2002.
What brings you to the Iridium?
I had met the general manager at a conference, and she invited me to come for Valentine's Day. It's a show I already do.
Will you be singing love songs for Valentine's Day?
It's pretty much an emphasis on jazz standards, and most of them are love songs--love gone right and love gone wrong.
Could you be more specific about what's on your program?
No, but I can tell you that I will be singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." I never not sing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." It is not something that I feel I have to make my fans beg me to hear or coax me to do. I always do it, whatever arena I'm in; whether I'm doing a short set or a two-hour show, this song is always part of my repertoire.
Do you consider "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" a love song?
I think that it is. It's a great lament, a plea for love. So many people say that it has saved their relationships. It's never saved any of my marriages, but it has changed some others! So I think it is a great love song.
Are the best love songs the ones about love gone wrong?
I do think the love-gone-wrong songs go over better, only because those melodies and those lyrics have a different feel that you can grasp on, if you're a torch singer like myself. I'm quite sure we all have a sweet love song that we dance to or recall from our wedding or something, like "At Last," but I think that it is the love-gone-wrong songs that touch even men. I have a big, big voice, and not that I can't coo and sing soft or talk sweet, but they fit my voice.
What else is keeping you busy these days?
I do some symphony dates, I play some performing arts centers across the United States. That's basically what I do. I am going to do one last round of Dreamgirls this summer as Effie, at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
I thought last year at the Muny in St. Louis was going to be your last time ever as Effie.
It was, it was! Every time I say that it's going to be a last time, I don't know what happens... But we decided: So many people wanted to see it here--this is home--it would be nicer for a lot of younger people to have an opportunity to see the show. So I'm going to put on Effie's gold dress one more time.
Has your Effie changed over the years?
It's more that I adjust to the newness that the new people bring to me. Letting these younger people--'cause most everybody that I do these shows with now are almost 20 years younger than I am--bring to life what they think for the characters, I try not to tell them, "Well, when we did it on Broadway..." That's not the right way; I have to feed off of them. Like, I had one C.C. who was very touchy-feely, so he liked to hug Effie all the time. And I had a Curtis who felt that he never loved Effie at all or cared about her, and his portrayal was kinda cold. And the reviewers picked up on it, and he didn't go over too well. I said, "I didn't want you to feel that I was trying to tell you about the character, but the original man that played the role could tell you that he cared somewhat for Effie, then it [his interest] became dreams and goals." Being that cold and unfeeling--you've got to make the audience at least want to applaud you at the end.
You relocated to Atlanta from New York in 2008. Why?
I moved here because you get the best of both worlds. There's that Southern warmth and hospitality, and I think in about five years this will be another mini-Hollywood, in terms of the industry here. Many music people here are Grammy-nominated or Grammy winners; a lot of movies are filmed here, and now more television. As I grow older--I'm over 50 now--I wanted to have a more balanced life, and I wanted to have an environment to do that, and I have found that here in Atlanta. And it has a great airport: I can be anywhere, because they have a flight leaving to everywhere almost every hour.