Oprah Winfrey has described actress Tonya Pinkins as “one of 10 women in America who will take your breath away.”
This week, audience will see another side of Pinkins when she unveils her for-adults-only “Tonya Pinkins: Unplugged” as part of the National Black Theatre Festival.
In her late-night cabaret shows at the Embassy Suites, Pinkins, also a celebrity co-chairwoman for the festival, will sing, joke and share stories about her life.
“I’m excited because this festival represents the only time — other than in church — that I get to perform before 99 percent black audiences,” she said.
“So I sat down and figured out what would be the right show for this audience at the National Black Theatre Festival. I get to do religious material that I don’t get to do in commercial theater and material about what’s going on in America today that is comfortable with this group. It’ll be funny and sexy but also very emotional. I’ll be doing a lot of singing from opera to jazz to blues to pop to Broadway, because it’s such a rare occasion that I want to show everything.”
Pinkins’ face — and her trademark wig collection — are familiar to many who have seen her on Broadway in “Jelly’s Last Jam” (for which she won a Tony Award in 1992) and “Caroline, or Change” or in her longtime TV role as Livia Frye on the soap opera “All My Children.”
She also has under her belt two solo albums (“Live at Joe’s Pub” and “Live at Joe’s Pub, Too”) and a best-selling book, “Get Over Yourself: How to Drop the Drama and Claim the Life You Deserve.”
Pinkins will appear in the upcoming Woody Allen movie “Fading Gigolo” and in this fall’s Broadway adaptation of John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill.”
Though she’s known for her performances in Broadway musicals, Pinkins, 51, said she considers herself “an actor first.”
“I teach what I call ‘acting singers,’ because if you ‘act’ a song and are compelling to watch and listen to, people will come and see you far more often than if you just have a beautiful voice,” she said.
Describing herself as a “legal activist,” Pinkins said she has much to say and write about what is happening in America today. “There are a bunch of books I want to write, and I’m trying to figure out what my next project will be. A lot needs to be said, so I’m sitting with it and looking forward to being at the festival and having fun. I hope to get inspired and hear some Southern voices and points of view that I don’t always hear,” she said.
Gerry Patton, executive director of the festival, is glad to have Pinkins on board.
“We are so honored to have Tonya Pinkins back with us this year as a performer and our celebrity co-chair,” she said. “Her Tony Award-winning talent epitomizes what the National Black Theatre festival is all about.”
Pinkins urges local arts buffs to attend the wide range of festival events, which includes plays, readings, workshops and poetry sessions.
“This is the only festival of its kind in the world,” she said. “For me, it’s like an exotic country, since I do theater in New York and it’s rare to see black faces in commercial theater. It’s thrilling to be able to see black faces both on and off the stage.”