REVIEW: Queen Latifah at the Ferguson

Yes, Virginia, Queen Latifah can really sing.

The actress and former rap star has released a pair of jazzy-soul albums, most recently "Trav'lin' Light." But singing in a recording studio and doing it on stage are two very different things.

Tuesday night at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News, Latifah proved that her talent is rock solid, no mythical computer-generated creation.

She came out swinging with "I'm Gonna Live Til I Die," dipped into raspy blues with "Baby, Get Lost," and sounded confident and strong on the soft, sweet ballad "Georgia Rose."

Through it all, she was a pleasure to watch. Queen Latifah oozes easy charm and natural charisma. She kidded with the audience about her Cover Girl makeup ad campaign, playfully slapped a set of bongos near her microphone and plucked some funky air bass.

"I'm feeling silly tonight, y'all," she told the crowd. Considering that the night's program included serious torch songs and mellow, jazzy tunes like the 1970s hit "Poetry Man," some comic relief was right on time.

It's just possible, though, that Latifah was too relaxed for her own good. While she and her capable, brass-powered band performed well, her 70-minute set lacked focus at times.

No matter, though. The singer born Dana Owens crafted a warm, reassuring vibe that made small flaws easy to overlook.

By the time she reached the dramatic conclusion of, "I Know Where I've Been," from the new film version of "Hairspray," the audience at the Ferguson Center knew they were watching a true, flesh-and-blood star.