Cynthia Erivo performs with the Colorado Symphony this weekend

For Cynthia Erivo, inspiration and perspiration tumble closely together.

“I’m not yet the best at it, but I’m getting there,” said the 33-year-old English actor and singer, on break from filming Nat Geo’s “Genius: Aretha” in Atlanta last week. “Even though it’s manic and crazy all around, I want to be present and make sure people have all my attention.”

That’s tough when Erivo’s only free time arrives between takes for a forthcoming Aretha Franklin miniseries, all while chasing her dog Caleb (a Maltipoo puppy) and answering reporters’ questions about the bright lights trained on her over the past couple years.

If you go

“Legendary Women’s Voices: An Evening with Cynthia Erivo.” 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at Boettcher Concert Hall, 1000 14th St. Tickets: $34-$99.

That includes a raft of nominations for her turn as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet” from the Golden Globes, Oscars and others. While she didn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actress on Sunday (that went to Renée Zellweger for “Judy”) she did get valuable stage time performing “Stand Up” from “Harriet” — a song for which she also was nominated.

“I surround myself with a pretty tight circle of people who remind me to stay in the moment,” Erivo said, even as she apologized for putting the phone down again to hunt for Caleb on the “Aretha” set.

Erivo’s latest stage moment comes this weekend when “Legendary Women’s Voices: An Evening with Cynthia Erivo” lands at Boettcher Concert Hall, on Feb. 15. The concert with the Colorado Symphony is billed as a revue of music from the greatest female singers of all time. That includes (appropriately) Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

“They’re all songs by women who I love and have been listening to and used as inspiration,” Erivo said. “And they’re songs I really love singing, so it’s slightly indulgent because I’ve gotten used to doing things that sound good in my voice.”

One could argue that anything sounds good in Erivo’s voice.

A 2016 Tony winner for her turn as Celia in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple,” Erivo also has tucked a Grammy and Daytime Emmy under her belt. Playing investigator Holly Gibney in HBO’s Stephen King-sourced series “The Outsider,” and grabbing roles in 2018’s “Widows” and “Bad Times at the El Royale” have helped boost her supporting-player profile.

But it was “Harriet,” the biopic about escaped slave and 19th-century abolitionist Tubman, that pushed her onto her biggest stage yet. Theaters have been showing it for free this month in honor of Black History Month, including Regal UA Denver Pavilions (the last screening was Feb. 11), along with, coincidentally, “The Color Purple.” (The latter screens at matinee prices on Feb. 23 in Denver, Lakewood and Sheridan; visit for tickets.)

It’s synergistic timing for Erivo, whose Denver concert arrives a few months before the Memorial Day premiere of “Genius: Aretha.” Nat Geo ran a first-look teaser during the 92nd Oscars telecast on Sunday and it looked, unsurprisingly, like fodder for a brand new Emmy nomination.

Guarding her time

As omnipresent as Erivo seems at the moment, she’s wary of overexposure. She only takes projects that “feel right” to her, she said, while also looking for challenges.

“It’s not necessarily that something will be too much of a stretch,” she said. “I still want things that are different and difficult, that I can sink my teeth into. But I don’t know yet that I can do a full year on Broadway. That is too much of a stretch. But if something comes along and they need a performer in six months, I could consider it. Nothing’s too much of a stretch if it feels good and represents women really well.”

While Erivo might see her upcoming Colorado Symphony concert as an indulgence, she knows her reputation would suffer if she didn’t bring intensity and focus to every performance. A typical day finds her waking up with a workout before alternating between on-set filming, recording, script-reading, coordinating with her assistant and travel.

It doesn’t leave much time for far-flung gigs (from Los Angeles, anyway) in places like Denver, where people will be expecting Oscar-worthy takes on classic songs, no matter how tired or busy Erivo might be.

“I sing them the way I think is authentic to the story that’s being told in the song,” she said. “It’s less about how I sound and more about serving the story, because many of these songs are narratives and I need to communicate that to people.”

She cites more dramatic numbers, like “I Who Have Nothing” (an Italian song adapted by lyricists Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) as well as “soft, sweet and subtle” songs such as 1933’s torch song “Stormy Weather,” which emerged from the Cotton Club in Harlem. The show’s breadth is impressive, starting with Gershwin (“Strike Up the Band”) and nipping at the heels of the present with Beyoncé’s “I Was Here.”

“Where it comes from determines how I sing it, really. I know the songs in my range that I enjoy, and I make sure to practice so I know how far I can go with the words and how much I can play with it.”

What’s up next

It’s a well-worn show in some ways, partly because Erivo has toured it around in other places. She frequently plays with the themes and setlist of the evening, swapping out songs based on how she’s feeling in that moment.

But she doesn’t think her take is the last word on any of these songs. It’s simply one woman’s interpretation.

“Each person has an individual sound,” she said. “I can’t instruct someone else on how they should sing it because each person might interpret the story differently. Singing something sweetly might not sound great if it’s not in your natural voice.”

Erivo has a busy year ahead. “Genius: Aretha” hits Nat Geo on Memorial Day; she wants to release an album (“Or at least have the inkling of one,” she said) at some point. “The Outsider,” which premiered Jan. 12, finishes on HBO in March, and she’s set to co-star in films such as “Chaos Walking,” which is currently in post-production. (The release date was recently announced as Jan. 21, 2021.)

“Past that I can’t decide,” she said. “I’m rooting through it. There are a couple of things I really love so it’s all about trying to figure out what’s best for me and what makes me happy. I might write a little bit, and will probably take a holiday somewhere when I have a minute.”

If that’s the case, why does Erivo feel the need to spend an extra minute popping into cities like Denver to perform her “Evening With” shows?

“I love the sound of an orchestra,” she said. “There’s nothing like literally feeling the force of the music behind you. You can feel the sound moving through the air. That’s why whenever I have an opportunity to do this, I do it.”

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, In The Know, to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox.

Source: Read Full Article