Capathia Jenkins was by herself on that St. James Theater stage as she made her Broadway debut in “The Civil War” in 1999, but she didn’t feel alone.
Jenkins thought about her ancestors every night before she stepped out of the shadows into the Broadway spotlight for her emotional solo in the show, a Jack Murphy-Frank Wildhorn musical about the darkest days in United States history.
“I thought about this blood coursing through my veins,” Jenkins said. “I thought about Lincoln. I have often thought about what my life would have been if I had been living through those very, very tough times.”
Jenkins, who is best known for her most recent role in “Newsies,” will be at the Garner Performing Arts Center on Saturday night as part of the town’s Broadway Voices concert series.
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She follows Broadway’s Phantom and Christine, Gary Mauer and Elizabeth Southard of “Phanthom of the Opera,” who were at the GPAC in December. Alli Mauzey, who recently left her role as Glinda in “Wicked,” wraps up the season in March.
Singing is telling a story, Jenkins said, and her character had a great story to tell every night during her run in “The Civil War.”
She played Harriett Jackson, a servant in the White House. As her character walked past the White House, a lone candle from President Abraham Lincoln’s office defied the darkness, and she sang about Lincoln’s thoughts as he pondered the fate of the nation.
“As I stood on the wings, I was terrified,” Jenkins said. “This was my Broadway debut and I was scared, as nervous as I have ever been. 60, 30, 20 seconds before I went out I wanted to go running, screaming from the theater.
“I would go out on the stage, all alone, and find my spot and prepare to sing. And then the spotlight would hit me. And in my mind I could see the candle. I could see Lincoln. And all these thoughts of my ancestors came flooding in. And I would tell this great story.”
Does he close his eyes?
Weary with the weight of being
Suddenly so wise
Tired of the demons
He must sit up there and fight
Deep into the night
Praying that he's right?
There's a candle in the window every night
Reflecting all our hopes and dreams
Or so it seems to me as I look up to see
That candle burning in the window shining bright
Far away and dim
Kept alive by him
The song – “A Candle in the Window” – was a quiet place in a busy show. After almost every performance, someone told her the song was the highlight.
“The song was a place of peace and hope,” she said.
Jenkins said every night during the show’s run, she would think her character’s thoughts and bring the song from her heart.
“You cannot separate singing from acting,” she said. “When you sing, you want to transport people to this other place. With great singers, you don’t just hear the words and the music, you are carried on a journey.”
Jenkins is known for carrying people to different places with her singing. She was raised on church music, embraced soul, trained classically, majored in jazz and performs on Broadway. She has sung with orchestras throughout the country, including a recent stop in Charlotte, and this fall she is touring internationally with the “50 Years of James Bond” musical show.
“She can sing anything,” said Broadway veteran Ron Bohmer, her “Bond” and a former “Phantom.” “She has this ability to evoke emotion from a song.”
The theme for Jenkins’ show in Garner, “Capathia Jenkins Is More Woman Than You Know,” came from her theater experiences.
“Someone sees me in a show or in a concert and they think they know me,” she said. “But there is more there.”
And there are a lot more places she wants to carry people.