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Nimoy Theater hosts glittering opening night with musical performances

Surrounded by the ensemble, Grammy Award-winning poet J. Ivy performs the first part of his “Poetry Uncut” series for UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance at The Nimoy. Following last night’s inaugural performance, J. Ivy will return to The Nimoy to host three more installments throughout the 2023-2024 season. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

By Leydi Cris Cobo Cordon

Sept. 24, 2023 8:18 p.m.

Setting the streets of Westwood aglow, The Nimoy had an opening night like no other.

Home to UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP), the newly-renovated historic theater greeted guests with a shimmering marquee for its inaugural performance last night. Past the lobby adorned with a sign reading “Live long and prosper,” Spock actor Zachary Quinto delivered opening remarks in honor of Leonard Nimoy, who had originated the role and for whom the theater was named after. Jesting about his scattered notes, Quinto started off the night reflecting on his close connection with Leonard Nimoy and his wife and fellow artist Susan Bay Nimoy, who helped fund the venue’s acquisition.

“We burn brightly, but briefly,” Quinto said. “When we go that energy continues to evolve, serving the need of the time in new and even more relevant ways. So tonight, Leonard is here with us. In this communion of celebration, we invoke his creative spirit … which delighted and inspired audiences and other artists alike for decades.”

After pausing to encourage the audience to cheer for Susan Bay Nimoy, Quinto thanked the philanthropist and others who aided in the renovation before introducing CAP executive and artistic director Edgar Miramontes. The alumnus said he implores people to explore the artistic offerings of Westwood, including the Hammer and Fowler museums and the Nimoy. Prompting the audience to cheer for Susan Bay Nimoy one more time, Miramontes then introduced J. Ivy and Ensemble, as well as award-winning singer-songwriter Tarrey Torae.

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Adorned with three muraled walls, the theater lights dimmed at 8:13 p.m. for Torae’s entrance. The painted cityscapes were brimming with illusions of light, from painted spotlights all across the illustrated town to glow-in-the-dark paint giving the effect of neon signs.

As her rendition of Rose Royce’s “I’m Going Down” drew to a close, Torae stopped to ask if the audience, whose swaying could be felt from the theater seats, was familiar with the song before prompting them to finish it out with her. Eliciting cheers from the audience, Torae asked if she could share music she’s made to fortify beautiful things within herself and others, before proceeding to deliver a soulful performance of her song “So Beautiful.”

“You can’t pour anything into anybody else’s cup if you haven’t filled yours,” Torae said. “So, every morning when you wake up, wake up and breathe in what you know to be good about yourself, and just be good to you first. When you get on an airplane the first thing they tell you is secure your oxygen mask first, before helping the person next to you, because if you can’t breathe, you can’t help nobody.”

Known for her contributions to Grammy Award-winning albums, Tarrey Torae belts with her arms outstreched. Her jumpsut shimmering under the stage lights, Torae said she listened to love songs and Motown growing up. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)
Known for her contributions to Grammy Award-winning albums, Tarrey Torae belts with her arms outstreched. Her jumpsut shimmering under the stage lights, Torae said she listened to love songs and Motown growing up. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Surrounded by the ensemble, Torae’s set wrapped up with “Love Magic,” another song off her 2022 album, “Catching Feelings,” before introducing the next performer at 8:26 p.m. As a glistening piano melody played out, Torae ushered in her husband and renowned poet J. Ivy with her full-hearted vocals.

Dressed in a fedora, J. Ivy gesticulated the eponymous action during his lively performance of “I NEED to Write,” which was preceded by “Listen” and “The World Needs More Poets.” The previously purple “Text Sex” stage lights turned a vivid red as “Fire” began, with the new hue reflecting off the shine of J. Ivy’s dress shoes like embers. With throaty chants of “fire,” Torae and the accompanying singers punctuated J. Ivy’s impassioned performance. A musical interlude led into “Lay Down” during which J. Ivy and Torae wandered to the edge of the stage, imploring the audience to chant.

A chuckle escaping him as he asked the audience if they wanted to hear the next song, J. Ivy began “Brooklyn Rain” as the coral lighting of the stage was washed away by a vibrant turquoise. “Off in Chicago” followed with the Chicago-born Peabody Award-winner emphasizing the ever-increasing speed of the verses by crouching as he gestured. Teasing the crowd, J. Ivy said he had no song for Los Angeles, but still loved the city.

“This is sacred ground right here,” J. Ivy said. “You’ll see people here, over the years to come, step on this stage and bare their all. They’ll give their blood, sweat and tears right here to entertain, educate and bring an experience to this community.”

Glowing bulbs on the underbelly of The Nimoy's marquee cast a golden hue. Named in honor of Leonard Nimoy, UCLA's acquisition of the historic venue was made possible with the financial support of artist and philanthropist Susan Bay Nimoy. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)
Glowing bulbs on the underbelly of The Nimoy's marquee cast a golden hue. Named in honor of Leonard Nimoy, UCLA's acquisition of the historic venue was made possible with the financial support of artist and philanthropist Susan Bay Nimoy. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Following J. Ivy’s “A Mile in His Soul,” which included an a cappella segment with Torae’s singing echoed by the two backup singers, Torae performed her song, “Still Will Love You.” As she belted and orchestrated in the air with her hands, she was met with isolated cheers from audience members. J. Ivy then removed his fedora for “Not of This World” as the color drained from the stage lighting, leaving an almost grayscale ensemble as the synth rang out.

After telling a story about his time working on Kanye West’s “The College Dropout,” J. Ivy led the crowd in learning a call and response for “Never Let Me Down” before starting the song at 9:30 p.m. “Get up I get,” the poet called out, prompting the audience to shout “down.” As the night drew to a close, J. Ivy asked the audience if he could perform one more song before introducing it in his storytelling fashion.

[Related: Concert review: Beyoncé showcases stunning skills at spectacular SoFi Stadium show]

Making a callback to a joke he started when introducing the previous song, J. Ivy told the story of how he met John Legend – who he helped name – humorously instructing the crowd to “Google him.” Calling out to the Bruins, J. Ivy invited the audience to sing and clap along during his spirited performance of “Running,” ending the night with one last song from the first Best Spoken Word Poetry Album, “The Poet Who Sat By The Door.”

Introducing himself, Torae and the ensemble once more, J. Ivy held up a peace sign before donning his fedora again. With a final salute and bow, he exited the stage as the audience quickly rose to their feet to cheer. Closing out the set, Torae thanked UCLA and the Nimoy once more before the theater lights turned on at 9:48 p.m.

“To have a moment here at the Nimoy knowing that it’s newly renovated and that we were the first to grace the stage is a huge honor,” J. Ivy said to the Daily Bruin after the show. “It could have been anyone up there tonight, so I feel blessed to usher in this new experience and this new space for the community.”

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Leydi Cris Cobo Cordon
Cobo Cordon is the 2023-2024 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts reporter. She is also a second-year student from northern Virginia.
Cobo Cordon is the 2023-2024 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts reporter. She is also a second-year student from northern Virginia.
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