Shoshana Bean at The Apollo. (Photo: Michael Hull)
By Ryan Leeds
You might not think of Harlem’s Apollo Theatre as the next SoulCycle, but if you had been in attendance at Shoshana Bean‘s concert last week, you definitely would have gotten a workout from all the standing ovations as well as a hefty dose of soul from the singer.
The palpable energy was felt even before Ms. Bean stepped into the spotlight of Harlem’s historic landmark. Her 18-piece orchestra, reminiscent of the big band heyday, opened the show with several measures of “Remember the Day” — a selection from her most recent album, Spectrum. Moments later the headliner emerged dressed in a classic white dress. Hysteria ensued.
Ms. Bean has a cross-section of loyal followers including Broadway folk, politicians, screenwriters, and fans of quality vocalists. Billy Porter, Chelsea Clinton, Katherine McPhee, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Levy, and Julia Murney were just a handful of the cheerleaders who came out to show their support for the leading lady.
A jazzed-up rendition of Johnny Mercer’s “I Wanna Be Around” followed. Although Tony Bennett’s recording is considered the definitive version, the song was also performed by Aretha Franklin. In a recent interview with The Broadway Blog, Bean cited The Queen of Soul as one of her inspirations. In this song and throughout the night, she obviously channeled Franklin, as well as other legends like James Brown.
More songs from Spectrum followed including the brassy, retro “Strange Thunder” and later with two ballads: “Stay” and “All to Me.” “Stay” featured a phenomenal dancer who Ms. Bean had met last month while performing Songs for a New World at City Center.
Acknowledging that she wouldn’t make it through all of the fan favorites, Ms. Bean engaged the crowd and asked for requests. With no accompaniment, she belted snippets of tunes. Finally, someone asked for “Something Bad,” a duet that she recorded with friend and fellow Broadway actress Cynthia Erivo. Guess who showed up onstage? Again, the crowd went wild. Later, the duo had the joint jumpin’ with a new cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
Apparently, Ms. Bean and the Obamas share the same taste in music. Ledisi, who was asked several times to perform at the White House for the former President and first lady, accepted Ms. Bean’s request for a duet. Together, they sang “Never Loved a Man.”
“Make it Rain” was Ms. Bean’s final number. Given the deafening cheers, it was clear she’d do an encore. Visibly moved, she fought back tears of joy and closed the concert with the “How Deep is the Ocean.”
Ms. Bean is a powerhouse vocalist who commands a stage with equal parts sass and graciousness. London audiences are in for a treat when she takes her show across the pond on September 9. For more concert dates, including Ann Arbor (September 18), Minneapolis (September 27), and Las Vegas (October 25-26), visit shoshanabean.com.
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or Facebook.