Someone went to the trouble of hanging a backdrop of tinsel streamers on stage at the Kennedy Center last night, but all that glittered was Stephanie Mills. It wasn't easy.
But the petite singer, who really has no business possessing such a huge voice, spent much of the evening trying to be heard through a muddy sound mix. Dressed in a sequined jump suit with a ruffled wrap-around skirt, she charged onto the stage only to find herself struggling to be heard over her nine-piece band. "Sweet Sensation" was the first casualty and it wasn't until she shed her skirt and began to "Ease On Down the Road" that the sound quality approached are acceptable level.
Mills has come a long way since playing Dorothy in "The Wiz," but her theatrical training is still paying dividends. She can seduce an audience, surprise it or overwhelm it. When she does all three, as on the ballad "Reach Out," you can almost feel the audience being pulled from their seats. It's a quality that transcends technical problems.
The Reddings, who opened the show, were long on energy but short on ideas. Their set could be summed up by vocalist Mark Locket's words: "Get Down, Get Funky."
They all return tonight.