Judy Collins is a delight in concert.
Part of it is her evident joy at being onstage. With her great mane of white hair, Collins has a regal presence. She’s also as chatty as your best friend at lunch, only much funnier. She told stories about the good-old/bad-old days of the music scene in the 1960s; she reminisced about growing up in Colorado and her father’s Christmas stories; and she related her initial Facebook adventures, which included trying to reassure Alec Baldwin after he’d been thrown off an American Airlines plane. (Collins had been arrested, pre-9/11 and in front of her granddaughter, for using her cell phone on a plane. That turned out to be a very funny story, too.)
Judging from audience reactions, Collins could have stood there and gabbed from the stage of the Swyer Theatre for 90 minutes and people would have been satisfied. But the 70-something singer has a truly astonishing voice, and that’s really why the room was almost sold out.
It was billed as a holiday concert, and Collins obliged with lovely versions of “Silver Bells,” “What Child Is This” and an a capella version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
But she wandered through her songbook—which incorporates tunes from all corners of American music of the last 50 years—and gave us plenty of nonseasonal gems. She turned kids’ music into wistful, adult meditations with “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio, and “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She told of being at Albert Grossman’s house in Woodstock and overhearing Dylan working on a song, which she then sang, imbuing it with a dreamy, haunted quality—“Mr. Tambourine Man.” Speaking of Dylan, she also sang Joan Baez’ tart song for Bobby, “Diamonds and Rust.” And as a closer, Collins sang, gorgeously, “Send in the Clowns,” the Sondheim number from A Little Night Music that she helped turn into a standard.
The first half of the show featured Collins with a guitar, accompanied by her musical director, Russell Walden, on piano. The second half began with Collins at the piano, as she cut out most of the chatting and concentrated on singing. The audience responded to everything she did with adulation, and the standing ovation that ended the evening was as inevitable as it was justified.