R&B star Alicia Keys is constantly updating her brand, but the essence remains the same - a talented singer-songwriter who is still learning to adapt her intimate style to the big stage.
Keys, who makes a stop 9 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at Revel in Atlantic City, is touring behind her late 2012 release "Girl on Fire" (RCA), featuring the creative efforts of a who's who of hitmakers: Frank Ocean, John Legend, Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj, Dr. Dre and Babyface.
Opening for Keys is RCA labelmate and recent Grammy winner Miguel, who has solidified his status as an R&B up-and-comer with his critically acclaimed sophomore release, "Kaleidoscope Dream."
There's no question, however, that the 14-time Grammy-winning Keys is the marquee name, albeit one of a different variety than some of her flashier peers, such as Beyonce or Rihanna.
Over the past decade, Keys has sold more than 30 million records, becoming the first female R&B performer to debut three albums in a row in the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart. The glamorous Keys, who is married to producer Swizz Beatz, also has tried acting, appearing in such films as "The Nanny Diaries" and "The Secret Life of Bees."
"As a combination of instrumental brilliance and star prowess, Keys has no peer today," Los Angeles Times critic August Brown writes of her show last month at the Staples Center. "But her singular talent came with its own challenges. How do you take a consummate musician –– one who likes the moody, shape-shifting aspects of modern R&B –– and make an arena-commanding spectacle of her?"
"Keys' approach mostly is to let her catalog take center stage, with backing from a dramatic, minimalist set, a select number of choreographed routines and a four-piece band," Toronto Globe and Mail critic Brad Wheeler says.
"Keys smiled and uplifted, sang her firm and catchy R&B, and sometimes played a piano, an instrument upon which her classically trained chops were not tested severely at all, either on an upright model or a grand," Wheeler writes of the April 2 show at Toronto's Air Canada Centre.
Among the highlights of her set are several cuts from "Girl on Fire," including "Listen to Your Heart," "Tears Always Win" and the title track, as well as catalog hits such as "Empire State of Mind," "Karma" and perhaps her best-known single "Fallin'."
"Ultimately, Keys seems torn between a desire to show off her musical chops –– especially at the keybooard –– and commanding the stage as any pop diva should," Brown says.
"Keys' talent as a writer and performer is so apparent that doing it justice on such a big stage is a challenge," Brown writes. "She could play Carnegie Hall, or do a pure R&B arena blowout. But the hard part is making us believe both at once. There was an awful lot of fire in her ... show, but now she needs to figure out what's heat and what's just smoke."
Alicia Keys with Miguel
WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday, April 13
WHERE: Ovation Hall, Revel, Atlantic City
HOW MUCH: Tickets, priced at $60.50, $100.50 and $150.50, are available at Revel's box office, Ticketmaster or