by Salvatore Sapienza
It’s not every day – or even every decade, for that matter – that a living legend of American musical theater comes to perform in West Michigan, so it’s a tremendous coup to have Grammy and Tony-winning “Dreamgirls” star Jennifer Holliday live on May 8 at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.
Holliday’s star-making role as Effie White in the original cast of the 1981 musical “Dreamgirls” is widely considered to be one of the all-time greatest performances in Broadway musical history. Her show-stopping number “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” has become a classic. Holliday, who turns 50 this year, will perform the smash number and other songs from “Dreamgirls” during her upcoming show in Saugatuck.
“I’ve been in show business for 33 years now, and I’ve had quite a few ups and downs,” says Holliday from her home in Atlanta, where she discussed everything from her long career to her health problems, her new man and her musical influences.
“I got my training from Barbra Streisand when I was preparing for ‘Dreamgirls,'” she says. “I learned how to hold those long notes from her.” After ending her run as Effie, Holliday released several well-received albums, though she says it became difficult for her to compete on the charts during the music-video era.
“My whole career was stomped by it. A lot of us who were valid singers and who had big voices but who couldn’t do the big hair and the padded shoulders were just left out in the cold.”
That said, Holliday reached number No. 1 on the U.S. dance charts with three of her singles over the years, and she scored a Top-10 album and Grammy for her forays into gospel music. Though she has not recorded any new music in 17 years, Holliday did appear on the soundtrack to Tyler Perry’s 2007 hit film “Why Did I Get Married?”
Speaking of marriage, Holliday has been married twice, both of which ended in divorce. She’s at a happy place now with a new man in her life, though she says, “The reason why I’m happy has nothing to do with the guy. Not trying to say that the brother’s not worthy, because he is fine! He’s all of that, but he knows he ain’t the sole reason for my happiness. I was like this when he met me.”
This newfound state of contentment has come for Holliday after years of illness and struggle. “In the early years of my career, I suffered greatly with depression,” she says. “When I was 30, I tried to commit suicide. Then, 15 years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”
Holliday came through it all thanks to her perseverance. “My favorite thing I say is, ‘You have to stay around before you can turn it around'” – a mantra she’s used to keep moving forward through life’s setbacks and disappointments.
“At some point, we have to release ourselves, love ourselves and give ourselves permission to have a life regardless of our past,” Holliday continues. “Right now I’ve found inner peace and joy and look at things with a whole new attitude.”
Tickets to Holliday’s May 8 show in Saugatuck are $150 per person, which includes a cocktail reception party with appetizers at 7 p.m., followed by the concert at 8:30 pm. The night will serve as a benefit to retain William Baillargeon as District Court Judge for Allegan County.
To purchase tickets for the event, call 269-857-3436 or visit http://www.alleganjudge.com. Saugatuck Center for the Arts is located at 400 Culver St. in Saugatuck.
7 p.m. May 8
Saugatuck Center for the Arts
400 Culver St., Saugatuck