She told the standing-room-only audience at Blues Alley Saturday night that she would sing "a collection of love songs and musical standards." But nothing was standard about Jennifer Holliday's fabulous performance, which frequently brought the appreciative audience to its feet. Backed by her five-piece jazz band, Holliday skillfully transformed herself into the characters of various standards with rich, soulful singing and lively improvisations. A flair for dramatic interpretation is hardly unfamiliar to Holliday, who starred in the 1980s Broadway musical "Dreamgirls." Especially moving was a magnificent rendition of "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)" -- her tribute to the late, legendary Sarah Vaughan.
The hour-long, nine-song set got progressively stronger. Her seventh number, "Cry Me a River," drew the first standing ovation of the evening. She caressed every word and note, enhancing the club's already intimate atmosphere with warmth and tenderness. And like any diva, she brought this and other numbers to stirring climaxes and rousing conclusions.
While well known for her ballads, Holliday shifted gears to render a funky, up-tempo number, "You and I Got Something," in which the band's talents were showcased. Finally she hit the audience with the song that propelled her to stardom, "No Way I'm Living Without You," from "Dreamgirls." The Blues Alley patrons responded to this ultimate show stopper by giving her a three-minute standing ovation. Holliday hasn't recorded an album since 1987, but said she is finishing one that's due this summer.