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Jenifer Lewis: Superb and down-to-earth

LINDA ARMSTRONG Special to the AmNews | 8/10/2012, 10:26 a.m.
Jenifer Lewis: Superb and down-to-earth

Lewis had a marvelous exchange through the night with her accompanist--who also happened to be her co-writer on many of the songs--Marc Shaiman. Mark Alton Brown co-wrote the show.

Talking about her diagnosis and being a spokesperson for bipolar disorder, her performance of "Crazy" had the audience in tears laughing. There was a part in the song where she gave examples of what it means to be bipolar, and she was brilliant. She had everyone cracking up.

As beautiful as Lewis is, she shared that she hadn't had much success in the romance department. But within the last three years, she met a handsome, retired marine sergeant, Arnold Byrd. While her earlier songs in the evening were revealing and funny, her next song was tender and moving. It was obvious that she has a deep love for Byrd as she gently rendered "I Got Lost in His Arms."

Throughout the evening, Lewis demonstrated her vocal gifts; this lady can definitely "sang," as she would probably say, but she also showed her vocal versatility. After telling us of her new love, she spoke of her ailing body and the outrageous things that her doctor recommended be done to help her "age gracefully." Lewis had four-letter responses to the doctor's recommendations, if you know what I mean.

Lewis took her audition for "Grey's Anatomy" and used it to share that she has "Hot Flashes" and experienced one at the audition. She told stories and delivered songs that everyone can relate to, and the audience couldn't stop laughing.

Then, again giving homage to the divas who came before her like Josephine Baker, Leslie Uggams and Leontyne Pryce, she performed an entertaining number called "Sang Bitch." By the end of the song, she shared that at her eulogy, she does not want tears. She got the audience on their feet and had us all declare at her, "Sang bitch!" which she did. What a moment!

Lewis definitely understands that entertainment is a mix of funny moments with meaningful ones. The song she performed next was "Grandma Small," in which she told about the beautiful, supportive relationship she had with her grandma growing up as the youngest of seven children. You can see that she is touched by the song and it is a wonderful tribute to her grandma.

The laughs returned as she performed "The 11 O'Clock Number," which Shaiman wrote to let Hollywood cast and crew know about the deadlines for theater performers--going on stage for an 11 p.m. spot doesn't mean showing up at 11 p.m.

Lewis explained that Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who created the songs in "Hairspray," first offered her the role of Motormouth and had her in mind when they wrote "I Know Where I've Been." She took the audience on a powerful journey as she took us to church with this song. She brought it home! Lewis ended the show with a slow, lovely version of "Here's to Life."

If you hear that Lewis is doing a live show, run to get tickets--you won't regret it. Lewis is truly a marvelous, funny lady, and the atmosphere at 54 Below is relaxing and welcoming. Go to www.54below.com to see what else is coming up.