Nesha Ward

November 11, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

“Imma Be That Nerd”

Don’t Tell Mama – November 5, 6

Nesha WardNesha Ward reently returned to Don’t Tell Mama with Imma Be That Nerd, a show she’d performed at the Duplex this summer. With a great sense of fun and a high-energy set list, Ward and her four-piece band and backup singers dazzled the audience in the club’s intimate brick-lined room.

The timbre of her voice and its vibrato often recall Gladys Knight, although Ward’s set list was generally more joy-filled and theatrical, even with her soulful embellishments. Ward also tended to favor more contemporary songwriters, although two of the standouts were Earl Shuman and Leon Carr’s wry “Marriage Is for Old Folks” (recorded by Nina Simone), which Ward delivered with a comical grimace, and Jessie Mae Robinson’s “You Let My Love Grow Cold” (made famous by Dinah Washington).

As robust as Ward’s voice is, it is her welcoming humor and love for life that pulled us in, starting with her celebratory opening number, a tying together of Cat Stevens’s “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” and “Everyday People” (Sylvester “Sly Stone” Stewart). Her backup singers, Noland King and Hakim Rashad McMillan, although sometimes rhythmically challenged, added to the festivities with their camaraderie and eagerness to have a good time throughout the show. They enhanced the atmosphere Ward created, rather than pulling focus.

Although Ward didn’t get too specific about her “nerd” theme, she eventually showed us that adorable side of herself, with her love for bad movies—which prompted a ten-song medley of songs from (mainly) truly awful films, performed with hilarious, over-the-top abandon)—her admission of being a Potterphile (lover of all things Harry Potter), and a hilarious dose of what she called “Nesha therapy”, featuring a spirited rendition of Sara Bereilles’s naughty “Sweet as Whole.” Ward managed to get the audience to sing along to words like “That guy’s an asshole/ That girl’s a bitch/ Baby, it’s natural/ No getting away from it/ So sing it out with me/And then let it go…” The experience proved to be rather liberating.

Although Ward included a couple of ballads in the show—such as Ben Taylor and David Saw’s “After it’s Over”—and sang them well, they didn’t click as well as her comic and rhythmic material. This isn’t a bad thing: many fine singers overfill their set lists with ballads and have a harder time selling up-tempo numbers. Ward has no such problem there, but perhaps she could set up her ballads a little better so that we can transition to them with her after all the moving and shaking going on. I’d like to hear a bit more seriousness and vulnerability in the patter, to see more of those facets from her. Her closing song, “Let the Music Get Down in Your Soul” (Frederick Knight), landed right in her comfort zone: funky and spirited, with an upbeat message. She is a true entertainer who has an arsenal of gifts to keep an audience cheering for an hour that passes all too quickly.

Her band was led by musical director/pianist William TN Hall, who acquitted himself very well with this foot-tapping material. Also featured were Tony Colabro on guitar, Jamie Mohamdein on bass, and Mike Lunoe on drums. Steven Stafford directed.

I look forward to seeing what more Nesha Ward brings to the table in future outings. For now, she offers a cornucopia of treats well worth sampling.

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Kevin Scott Hall performed in cabaret clubs for many years and recorded three CDs, including “New Light Dawning” in 1998, which received national airplay. He also worked at the legendary piano bar, Rose’s Turn, and has taught cabaret workshops and directed shows since 1995. Kevin earned his MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. He is an adjunct professor in the Theatre and English departments at City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. His novel, “Off the Charts!” was published in 2010, and his memoir, “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” (Wisdom Moon), in 2014. Kevin writes a monthly column and entertainment features for Edge Media Network, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and freelances for other publications.

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