Biopic and journal book on back burner while singer continues to tour.
Alicia Keys took the stage at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday night beneath a sparkling chandelier and two giant black-and-white posters — one of herself, with a flower in her hair à la Lady Day, and another of jazz legend Cab Calloway. With her band in a smooth white supper club landscape, the venue looked like a modern version of an old-time Harlem nightclub.
It also set the stage, so to speak, for Keys’ time-traveling future, which will include a leading role in a biopic depicting a young piano prodigy in the ’50s. She’s also planning her second book, an unplugged album and, potentially, more acting roles.
At the moment, she’s in the midst of what has turned out to be a very long tour in support of 2003’s The Diary of Alicia Keys. Most performers would be ready to stop touring after a year and a half, but Keys seems thrilled to give the audience what it wants. Her campaign was supposed to wrap up in a few days but has been extended until June.
Before Wednesday’s show, Keys described her series of Radio City Music Hall performances as “completely conceptual. Everything from the music arrangements to the style of the stage is centered around a ’30s era. It’s like you come in and you’re in a whole other world.”
Following an opening set by bold, unsigned German singer Zascha Moktan, a dapperly dressed John Legend stepped out in a tan suit to perform with his seven-piece backing band. Crooning his funky blend of soul, gospel and R&B on gems like “Ordinary People” and the anthemic cheating song “She Don’t Have to Know,” Legend was joined onstage by Kanye West for “Number One.”
Keys came out in a backless black satin halter pantsuit and wore a feather boa and glimmering diamond cuff. She chatted comfortably between songs, her patter never interfering as she danced — yes, danced — across the stage.
Keys said her moves are not so structured. “It’s very loose. It allows me to move from place to place and do how I feel as opposed to ‘And 1, 2, 3 and 4.’ It’s definitely about the piano, and it’s about feeling free and moving on the stage as well, so it’s a mixture.”
No mellow piano recital here; the audience was out of its cushy red seats several times during the night.
Keys likes to whoop it up on one song in particular these days. “One of my favorites is this version I came up with of ‘How Come You Don’t Call Me,’ ” she said of her recently constructed Prince cover. “We put this little boogie-woogie kind of thing to it that’s totally unexpected.”
Even more unexpected than her present performances, perhaps, are the new areas Keys plans to expand into in the future. Fans will hear more and more about her upcoming movie role in “Composition in Black and White,” a movie based on Kathryn Talalay’s book and produced by Halle Berry. It’s about the life of another young piano prodigy, Phillipa Schuyler, with another parallel being that Schulyer, like Keys, was a biracial musician (see “Alicia Keys To Play Biracial Piano Prodigy In First Movie”). The daughter of black author George Schuyler and white artist Josephine Cogdell, Schuyler began writing and composing music at the age of 4, struggling against racism before reaching stardom in the 1950s. Keys said the start date of shooting isn’t set yet.
She revealed some more cards up her acting sleeve: “We are investigating a lot of incredible roles that we’ve been approached about, and I’m very interested in two in particular. So that may be developing. I’m going to keep it quiet until it’s official.”
In the meantime, Keys is busy working on her second book, which will be based on her journals.
“I’m just formulating which style I want to write it in: straight based off my life or a little more journal-style in nature,” she said. “I’m [also] gearing up to do an unplugged album, which is going to be very exciting. I love the opportunity to strip my music down to its essence and then create new songs around that.”
Writing a new album is an ongoing process for Keys, and she said her next one is going to write itself. Does that mean it’ll be another few years before we see that record?
“I don’t know what to tell you,” she chuckled. “Because that’s the way music is with me: it just flows how it’s supposed to. This next album is going to be so out there that it needs time to develop. It’s definitely going to be a new style for me, still based in my heart and soul. It will still feel like me, but I’m definitely going to be expanding in a lot of ways.”