As soon as Chaka Jaliwa ’11 stepped out of his freestyle stomp during the one of many dance breaks and into a rendition of “100 Days and 100 Nights” that would make Sharon Jones stand up and shout, “YOU DO YOU,” I knew “Souled Out 2” was going to turn my soul inside out.
I had initially thought the show would be the soul version of “Glee,” with multicolored costumes and a group of multiethnic beautiful people engaging happily in song. But I was quickly brought to my senses by Alex Caron’s ’13 voice in “Mama Knew Love.” “I’ve heard this voice before,” I thought “but it was singing ‘Fistful of Tears.’” That’s right; Caron has been gifted with the panty-dropping voice of Maxwell. Together with the serenading sounds of Henry Gottfried ’13 and the rest of the cast, the voices are like warm velvet over naked skin.
Maxwell does not belong in a family-friendly performance, and neither do any of the singers of “Souled Out 2”. Their performances are provocative and spiritually grounded in a way that Yale does not see very often. Through the music, the audiences are taken through the passions felt in each song: love, betrayal, heartbreak, unbearable loneliness and inner turmoil. Unlike “Glee,” these performers need no plot to make sure their artistic spirits touch the souls of the audience members.
Hand-held microphones and the selection of soloists made damn sure that the audience knew the performance was about music, not dramatic lyrics. To the theater buff’s eye, the microphone is a foreign entity. At first they did not seem right among such expressive performances, especially when the placement of the microphone sometimes prevented some of the lyrics from being heard.
Then I realized that the entire performance is important, not just the character of the singer. In time, I became grateful for the reminder to feel what was happening and not just look for the rising drama as I felt it in a song. As far as the soloists, in the second act Caron successfully tackles Lauryn Hill’s imposing “To Zion,” which is about motherhood, while Mary Bolt ’14 performs a stirring version of Marc Broussard’s “Let Me Leave.” Each song is gender-specific, but the emotional impact that comes across in each performance is certainly not.
The thing about soul music is that it makes you have a lot of feelings, and this is what “Souled Out 2” is really about: studying the emotional power of music. The voices, the passion behind them, the magnificent band accompanying, the lights, the staging were all meticulously chosen by director Michael Blume ’12 to gift the audience with the moving ebbs and flows of each musical number’s nature.
“Souled Out 2” not only includes soul ballads, but also pop music hits covered by people with, let’s face it, more raw talent than the original performers and with a real band instead of synths. From Anna Miller’s ’14 version of “Nobody’s Perfect” (it was infinitely better than Jessie J’s) to Ker Medero’s ’12 spine-tingling rendition of Bruno Mars’ hit “Grenade,” “Souled Out 2” is a show for all people — fans of soul or not — to enjoy.
In all honesty, my mind was blown. Not since my childhood had I felt the tingle all over my body and the quick hit to my diaphragm that caused me to lose my breath from a powerful gospel chord. The voices compounded with the poignant performances literally moved me to tears. Maybe not everyone is simultaneously spiritually and physically aroused by a fantastic musical performance, but if you can relate in the minutest way, go see this show. It was a revelation.