NYC-based singer/performer/actress/guitarist Eleri Ward took to the stage earlier this week to perform a sold-out concert at Sony Music Hall. Eleri is inventing her own genre and it’s incredibly exciting to watch her acoustic folk covers of Broadway showtune classics come to life on the big stage.
She began the night with ‘Stay With Me’ from the musical ‘Into The Woods’. Her voice immediately attracts the audience with its sharp, consistent, and beautiful tone. Next, she delivered a classic, ‘Johanna’ from ‘Sweeney Todd’, which is one of the many hits that gained her a large fan base. For the next song ‘I Know Things Now’ from ‘Into The Woods’, she recontextualized the piece which is typically sung by a child or an adult playing a child. Eleri performed this as a grown woman, unlearning and learning her way through adulthood.
The first special guest of the night was Sam Pauly from ‘Six’ the musical. Together they delivered a gorgeous rendition of ‘Unworthy Of Your Love’ from ‘Assassins’. This tune featured some exceptional finger picking folk rhythm. One standout highlight of the night was her stunning version of ‘I Remember’, from Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Evening Primrose’. Her angelic vocals captured the feeling we all have felt since the shutdowns in 2020. During Eleri’s version of ‘Pretty Women’ from ‘Sweeney Todd’, towards the end of the tune her vocal rhythm matched finger picking rhythm which displays how she truly is a master of her craft.
Unfortunately, the planned second special guest Laura Benanti was under the weather and couldn’t make the performance, but Jennifer Simard saved the day. Jennifer is hilarious and her comedic banter and performance of ‘Agony’ from ‘Into The Woods’ reminded the audience of TV and Movie actress Jennifer Coolidge.
Next, she delivered ‘Every Day A Little Death’ from ‘A Little Night Music’. Eleri has a remarkable ability to make these songs cool and brand new. It helps us hear how groundbreaking Sondheim was in his lyrics and melodies. We often get overwhelmed by his orchestrations, so hearing these songs with just vocals and guitar made it much easier to appreciate and take in.
During ‘Not A Day Goes By’ from ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, she arranged the song to make room for her ideas. We hear the findings of her Sherlock Holmes-like investigation of Sondheim’s work. She expands phrases and resets the melodies to fit her acoustic folk style.
Broadway legend Donny Murphy was in the audience, and Eleri announced this when she dedicated her performance of ‘Loving You’ from ‘Passion’ to her. After, she delivered an energetic version of ‘Another Hundred People’ in which her style is clearly inspired by a Thank Folk For That favorite artist Sufjan Stevens.
The final special guest of the night was Bobby Conte. Their duet on ‘Move On’ from ‘Sunday In The Park with George’ was the absolute highlight of the night and displayed the most magical chemistry of all the special guests of the night. Eleri came back on stage to perform a two-song encore, Johanna reprise and the final song of the night was Sunday. Eleri Ward is one of the major up and coming talents to continue to watch grow in the spotlight. With Brian Fitzsousa accompanying her on piano, this show is such a special night of music. Eleri’s Sondheim albums are available on CD and Vinyl from Ghostlight Records and she will be headlining her first national tour this coming February. Get your tickets now!
Scott J. Herman