Gracious, engaging, and a powerhouse of a voice, Jennifer Hudson brought the house down and left the audience standing and cheering while in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap on September 5, 2019.
Conductor Thomas Wilkins confessed that he first heard Hudson while watching the Super Bowl in 2009, and he knew he wanted her to sing at the Hollywood Bowl. “She is not only a terrific human being; she is also an incredible force musically,” Wilkins stated while introducing Hudson. He was surprised to discover that his invitation to conduct the NSO came with a chance to work with Hudson.
Rising above the din of clapping and cheers, from the orchestra pit where some of the audience sat, Hudson, singing “How Great Thou Art” in a capella, broke through the night like thunder. Hudson made her way through the audience in the orchestra pit where she had been sitting while stopping to shake people’s hands. She ascended the stairs to the stage and the party was on.
From opening to closing, Hudson belted out some of her most recognizable tunes, including her studio debut single “Spotlight,” “Remember Me,” “Where You At,” and “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” her most memorable tune from the movie “Dreamgirls.”
Amid an evening of soul-rocking music and displaying the gospel-inflected voice that has become Hudson’s signature quality, one highlight was her cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic “All is Fair in Love.” Hudson confessed that the Wonder tune is one of her favorites. Adding some surprising runs and showing the range of her voice by dropping into a deep full-chested alto to end the song, Hudson did right by a tune whose lyrics and melody remain emblazoned in the memories of so many music lovers.
As she sang her all-time favorite tune, “Hallelujah,” Hudson’s music origins in the church unveiled themselves. Hudson quickly segued into Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” moving the audience to their feet in a dance-party-like response. Perhaps the evening would not have been complete without Hudson doing what the late great Prince demanded she do–to “take it all the way to church” when she rocked “Purple Rain,” with purple lights shining from the front corners of the stage and on the backdrop. Hudson not only incited the audience to sway and wave their arms from side to side, but she also led them to the altar in this medley of Prince tunes that included “1999.”
Although the concert lasted about two hours with a fifteen-minute intermission, the opening with the National Symphony Orchestra playing selections from the opera Carmen and some Duke Ellington compositions for twenty minutes sounded disjointed from the second half of the show.
However, when Hudson took the stage, she mentioned that upon arriving in northern Virginia she became overwhelmed with allergies. It is unclear whether the opening of the concert was contrived to allow Hudson to deal with the effects of the climate on her voice or if the concert progressed as rehearsed. But what matters is that once Hudson appeared, the apprehensions about the quality of the show dissipated.
Hudson gave her all, and she is an entertainer’s entertainer, a performer whose purpose is to make sure her audience has a good time–even pausing in the orchestra pit to take selfies during the closing tune of the concert, all while remaining in full voice. Hudson has risen from the nervous twenty-three-year-old who should have taken first place in “American Idol” to the seasoned and gracious entertainer. She seems amazed by a success that has been rightfully earned. Her voice soars to the heavens, and if music is supposed to make you feel good, Hudson will baptize you with a whole lot of feeling good.
Running Time: About 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Jennifer Hudson performed with the National Symphony Orchestra one night only, September 5, 2019, at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna, VA. For more information on future performances at Wolf Trap, go online.