LaKisha Jones and WSOIf you walked into Windsor’s Capitol Theatre last Sunday (September 24, 2023), you might have expected a standard afternoon of orchestral melodies, with the full Windsor Symphony Orchestra (WSO) set up for a performance. However, with LaKisha Jones in the house and the WSO behind her, “standard” was the last word you’d use to describe the afternoon. “Stellar” might be a more descriptive and accurate word.

The performance, which was part of a two-show visit to the Rose City, kicked off with the WSO diving into a James Bond-themed set. Immediately, the orchestra showcased their skill, versatility, and why they’re the jewel in Windsor’s arts and entertainment crown. They played a medley of Bond classics that set the mood and heightened the anticipation for Jones’s entrance. It was the first Toldo Pops show of the season and a chance for the musicians to explore more contemporary music and playing styles, such as full pop drums, bass guitars and saxophone solos.

 

Under the surprise direction of Assistant Conductor Francisco Hernández Bolaños, who was filling in for an absent Maestro Robert Fraz, the orchestra was focused and on the money. You could tell this was an event he was originally planning on watching from the audience, but his superb guidance and leadership, led the orchestra through a captivating performance. His genuine joy and enthusiasm for performing with Jones was easy to see and added some unexpected smiles from the audience, right from the moment she came to the stage.

Jones, known for her Season 6 American Idol stint, has a voice that can only be described as a powerhouse. Her opening numbers, “Skyfall” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” fit perfectly with the WSO’s James Bond intro. She then effortlessly transitioned into George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” displaying her unique blend of vocal clarity and emotional resonance.

But it was her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” that left everyone buzzing during the intermission. It was an explosive performance, and the crowd couldn’t get enough.

Post-intermission, the WSO gave a nod to Beethoven with both a traditional touch and a swing groove, before Jones retook the stage, creating a rich tapestry of music that ranged from classical to modern. Jones’s second act included timeless hits like “Blues in the Night,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “Natural Woman.” Her ability to cover a range of styles while making each song her own was astounding. It’s clear why she made such an impact on American Idol; her voice is not just technically excellent but emotionally compelling. In a personal first, this reviewer experienced a professional rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” that was so impeccably executed, it elicited tears of joy.

Now, let’s talk about an outrageously unforgettable personal moment for a second – one that took this reviewer from observer to participant in the blink of an eye. During Jones’s performance of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” she ventured into the audience, connecting directly with her fans, shaking hands, sitting on laps and toying in playful ways. It broke the dignified tension and made room for what came next. In a twist I could never have predicted or even imagined, the spirit of John Travolta overtook me when she and I found ourselves doing the old disco dance The Bump, right there in the aisle by my seat. It certainly broke down the tension that is often felt at these types of shows between the artist and the audience, but it’s a vibe, energy and openness Maestro Franz has been working on integrating into the orchestra for years. Even the woman seated in front of me was so moved that she gave us a standing ovation and a bow, adding a layer of excitement and unpredictability to an already phenomenal afternoon.

Jones capped off the night with Jennifer Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” and if anyone had any doubts about her vocal prowess, this performance put them to rest. Backed by the impeccable artistry of the WSO, Jones’s voice seemed to resonate throughout the theater long after the final applause.

Jones and the WSO proved that the right combination of talent can turn an afternoon of music into an unforgettable experience. Jones’s vocal mastery and the WSO’s instrumental excellence made for an performance that transcended genres and expectations.

Next up, the WSO will continue to break down those barriers when it brings the audience with them for a sold-out on-stage experience called OnStage: J.C. Bach’s London on October 5.

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