Sunday, April 10, 2011

Concert review: Greta Oglesby at the Capri

When: Saturday, April 9, 2011 • Where: Capri Theater Who: Greta Oglesby, voice; Sanford Moore, piano

Greta Oglesby is both actor and singer, which is the only conceivable reason her first solo show here as a singer was so long in coming. Oglesby has lived in the Twin Cities since 2000 but never headlined as a vocalist until this weekend. She’s been acting in theaters around the country, and locally at the Penumbra and the Guthrie. Next week, she opens in a comedy at the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company. She doesn’t even have a manager for the singing part of her career.

After last night, that will probably change. At a sold-out show at the Capri Theater in North Minneapolis, she won us over instantly and brought us to our feet more than once. She also made me teary, and I’m guessing I wasn’t alone. Previously I’d heard her only on a YouTube video, and I wasn’t prepared for the force of her voice and her personality, her warmth, and her charisma. When she opens her mouth and starts to sing, Oglesby is irresistible.

For her Capri show, she sang traditional and modern gospel songs, Gershwin and Lerner & Loewe. She did a bit of acting, coming out in character and costume for “Bad Luck” from Dinah Was, inhabiting the role of Caroline for her knockout finish, “Lot’s Wife” from Caroline, or Change. She’s very expressive when she sings, using her hands and face and body to communicate the message of the song.

She also did a bit of preaching. The daughter of a minister, married to a minister, Oglesby was up front about her faith. “As Christians, we sometimes get angry with God,” she said, introducing “He’s Been Faithful.” Before “I Could Have Danced All Night,” she told us about the first time she went dancing with the man she would one day marry. He led; having grown up in a home where dancing was a sin, she followed. “Submitting—I know, that word from the Bible—isn’t so bad when you have a man who knows how to lead,” she told the crowd.

She dedicated “Holy Ground” to the Capri, which is owned by Plymouth Christian Youth Center, where she teaches theater to high school students. “This is a sacred space,” she said. “It’s the engine that is driving the renovation of West Broadway.”

Every song was personalized with a story: about when she first heard it, what it meant to her, how she felt about it. Her stories never seemed like shtick or filler; they drew us in and made her performance more intimate. She told us about her childhood, her college years, seeing Lena Horne perform, having dinner with Puff Daddy (“the nicest guy”) in New York. She confessed that she didn’t like her future husband at first because he didn’t meet all of the requirements on her list.

During “I Could Have Danced All Night,” Pastor Dennis Oglesby stepped out from the wings and danced her around the stage. At one point, she threw the crowd a “see-what-I-mean?” look over her shoulder. It was priceless. He returned to join her in singing “Bess, You Is My Woman” from Porgy and Bess, and the pairing of their voices (his a deep, rich baritone) earned a standing ovation. His appearance wasn’t announced in the press release or the program, and it came as a delightful surprise.

The program was divided into two parts (Act 1: Gospel, Act 2: Broadway), letting Oglesby demonstrate her range, from soulful reverence to spiritual joy, down-and-dirty blues to musicals both glittering (My Fair Lady) and profound (Caroline, or Change). For “The Girl in 14G,” a song originally written for Kristin Chenoweth, she showed off a convincing operatic soprano and a jazz singer’s chops. Her voice is full and luscious in the lower registers, a bit thinner but still beautiful as she soars up and up—and up; a few songs ended on very high notes. Her vibrato is like shirred velvet.

Just before singing “Lot’s Wife,” she told us that her feet were hurting. After “Lot’s Wife”—a wringing, emotional performance, after which most singers would have had nothing left—she reprised part of the gospel song “He’s Been Faithful,” and it was clearly her way of saying thanks: “When my strength was all gone/When my heart had no song/Still in love He’s proved faithful to me.”

Heads up: Oglesby will perform a solo jazz concert this August, as part of the Cleveland Neighborhood Association’s free outdoor series, “Live on the Drive.”

Set list:

Act 1: Gospel
“Oh Jerusalem” (traditional; arranged by Sanford Moore)
“He’s Been Faithful” (Carol Cymbala)
“Holy Ground” (Geron Davis)
“Prodigal Son” (Anonymous)
“Wade in the Water” (Anonymous)
“Deep River” (Anonymous)
“My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” (arranged by Moses Hogan)
“Glorious” (Martha Munizzi(

Act 2: Broadway
“Bad Luck” (from Dinah Was; Hill/Washington)
“The Girl in 14G” (Scanlon/Tesori)
“I Could Have Danced All Night” (My Fair Lady; Lerner/Loewe)
“Bess, You Is My Woman” (Porgy and Bess; Gershwin)
“Lot’s Wife” (Caroline, or Change; Kushner/Tetsori)

Related: Read my pre-concert review with Oglesby here.

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