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Chaka Khan gets Centennial Hall on its feet

Chaka Khan gets Centennial Hall on its feet

The audience spent much of the night Friday on its feet dancing along with Chaka Khan. 

Here's something you probably have never heard at UAPresents opening night:

"Are you ready to party? Well alright. Let's get it started!"

That was how Candace L. Feldman, the new UAPresents program director, introduced the opening of her inaugural season to the audience of 1,500 loosely filling Centennial Hall Friday night.

And when R&B/funk diva Chaka Khan took the stage a few moments later, the audience was on its feet taking Feldman's advice to heart.

It was opening night for the season, which will include performances by violin great Itzhak Perlman, an evening with Broadway great Bernadette Peters, the Grammy-winning jazz ensemble Manhattan Transfer and the kid-friendly junk rock group Recycled Percussion. Normally opening night is reserved, maybe even a tad genteel. Folks dress in their finest and once they take their seat, they pretty much remain sitting, unless there's an intermission or they're giving the artist a standing ovation.

On Friday night, the casually dressed, racially and generationally diverse audience greeted Khan on their feet and kept getting back on their feet with every familiar hit she sang, from the opening Rufus and Chaka Khan dancer "Do You Love What You Feel" to her Bruce Hornsby co-penned ballad "Love Me Still."

Truth be told, it would have been nearly impossible to sit through Khan's 75-minute show. Khan never stops moving, shimmying across the stage and dancing along to her funk-infused R&B pop catalogue including the rocking "Ain't Nobody," the groovy "Tell Me Something Good," and the sultry "Papillon (aka Hot Butterfly)." Her music begs you to boogie, and there was one woman near the front of the stage who did just that. She stood nearly the entire show, dancing along as Khan, dressed all in black, whipped her long, curly hair around as she dug into the driving Rufus and Chaka Khan rocker "I'm A Woman (I'm A Backbone)."

The 63-year-old Khan, making her first Tucson show in decades, was in fine voice, hitting the full range of her dizzying soprano. She soared into the high register on her opening disco/soul-era song "Do You Love What You Feel" then softened to near alto on the sultry midtempo ballad "Everlasting Love."

Khan spent much of the evening coursing through her earlier Rufus and Chaka Khan days, slipping in her later hits including "Love Me Still" and her empowering exclamation of "I'm Every Woman." She added a jazzy scat at the end of the ballad "Funny Valentine" then urged the audience to sing along to "Every Woman," and the fan in the front row swung her arms in the air as if leading the choir.

Not surprisingly, the night's loudest moment came when Khan sang her signature dance hit "I Feel For You." Fans sitting down bolted to their feet. The folks on one side of the hall were already on their feet — the group comprised largely of students and twentysomethings rarely sat throughout the evening. The audience let out a wave of loud "Yeahs" that filled Centennial Hall and surely could be heard along University Boulevard where hundreds of people were celebrating the UA's family weekend.

Next up at UAPresents: The farewell tour of the Broadway musical "Mama Mia" with Broadway in Tucson on Oct. 21. There will be five performances through Oct. 23. Click here for tickets. 

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch


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