Yet of course, a singular adjective could never hope to capture all the passion, all the joy, all the emotional upheaval and celebratory enthusiasm unleashed in the symbiotic love-affair between performer and audience that is a Miss Patti Labelle concert. So I’ll expand.
As the audience eagerly awaited the “Queen of Rock ‘n‘ Soul,” the show opened with the acclaimed singer/songwriter Will Downing, who captivated the audience with his rich baritone jazz and R&B vocals. Tearing up about halfway into his set, he looked out at all of the vibrant, happy people enjoying his music, sat back in a mirrored chair, and took a brief moment to reflect, sharing with the audience the story surrounding his last scheduled performance at NYCB.
It was back in 2006, Downing said, with R&B singer Stephanie Mills, but he had to cancel because he came down with polymyositis—a rare inflammatory disease of the muscles. To be able to perform at this venue on Saturday—coincidentally, his 51st birthday, he told the packed house—was a dream come true.
After a brief intermission, out stepped LaBelle, wearing a simply dazzling dress and absolutely igniting the packed house into a gushing frenzy of applause and cheers. She kicked off the intimate evening with the 1986 synthpop chart-topper “New Attitude” before gliding through an impressive and eclectic array of songs spanning her more than half-century as one of the most entertaining and talented singers of all time.
The set included: “New Attitude,” “New Day,” “If You Asked Me To,” “If Only You Knew,” “What Can I do For You,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “Love Need and Want You,” “Somebody Loves You,” “Stay With Me,” “Right Kind of Lover,” “How Great Art Thou,” “On My Own (with Brandon Winbush),” “You Are My Destiny (with Brandon Winbush),” disco sensation “Lady Marmalade” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
LaBelle hit all the notes with style and ease, belting out the high octaves and injecting each and every number with her signature sass and soul. On the top of the black-baby grand up onstage was a Snow White/Cinderella-esque ensemble that included a handheld mirror and about a half-dozen pairs of illuminated electric-light stilettos, which she changed into throughout the show.
LaBelle’s stellar performance left no question as to whether she still possessed the same zest, fire and love for the audience that she had 52 years ago when she first began her legendary career.
LaBelle is a true diva—a legendary singer, talented actress, gifted author and even a talented cook who shares her recipes and has her very own line of BBQ sauces and marinades(!!)—but she’s also a humanitarian, and her support for adoptive services, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the American Diabetes Association, among so many other causes she champions, is well known.
Her big heart was on full display at NYCB, too.
LaBelle met a couple by the name of Larry and Denise before the show, she told everyone between songs. The singer made sure they had tickets for the performance and even gave them a special shout out during the gig!
With not a bad seat in the house, and its amazing sound system, the NYCB Theatre at Westbury proved the perfect venue for such a riveting performance: cozy, intimate and rockin’!
“I’ve seen Patti about 40-something times now and throughout the 10 years I have followed her, the one thing that never changes is her spirit,” raved 21-year-old R&B artist, radio show host and longtime LaBelle fan Joey Mannarino, of Philadelphia, afterward. “No matter what songs she sings or where she performs, the love for her fans is what always shines through the most.
“Every year she comes to Westbury, her fans travel from all across the country, as they say it’s the best venue in the country to see Patti!” he continued. “As usual, she didn’t disappoint!”
For an encore, the sultry songstress let loose an emotionally powerful “You Are My Friend.” The entire house was up on their feet, applauding and shouting praises.
What a venue! What a performance! We love you, Patti!!
With Zack Tirana
For more amazing gigs and performances at NYCB Theatre at Westbury, check out their page in The Island Ear!
Watch Patti LaBelle perform “Somewhere Under The Rainbow” below!