Sparkling tribute to a diva

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Belinda Davids (centre) and cast in their fine tribute to Whitney Houston

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STAGE The Greatest Love of All: The Whitney Houston Show – iZulu Theatre Sibaya Casino

REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
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I HAVE to lay my cards on the table and admit I have never been a great fan of Whitney Houston and others who employ excessive vocal gymnastics in song delivery. I enjoy only the occasional hit by her.

I have to admit, too, that I have always hated Houston’s now-classic rendition of I Will Always Love You. I believe Houston oversings and overdramatises a simple song performed infinitely better by Dolly Parton, who wrote it and first took it to the top of world charts. Millions, of course, would disagree… but there you have it.

So it was with some trepidation that I first saw this touring tribute show at this Sibaya Casino venue in December 2013 – not only because it was an all-Houston tribute but because it was produced by Aussie-based Showtime Management, many of whose tribute shows at this venue have not been nearly as wonderful as publicity has proclaimed them to be.

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Belinda Davids in her Whitney Houston tribute.

It was a pleasant surprise, then, when I was bowled over by the slick presentation and, above all, undeniable and rewarding talent of Belinda Davids from Port Elizabeth, who has a good audience rapport and a four-octave range that does justice to all the Houston hits.

Remarkably, Davids has reportedly never had a singing lesson, began performing professionally at the age of 14, and in the mid-1990s recorded an eponymous album that led to club and cabaret performances.

She went on to be the support act for South African tours by Michael Jackson, The Manhattans, The Temptations and Peaches and Herbs, before she attended auditions for the Houston tribute show.

Word is that Showtime Management dedicated more than a year to creating the show, which is back in South Africa after recent tours to the US, Middle East and New Zealand – and which, a dickie bird tells me, is headed for London in April for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

The producers, to seek the best Houston tribute artist they could find, apparently auditioned some 15 000 hopefuls in 12 countries before settling on Davids who, with full perm and many Whitney moves and mannerisms, almost looks like Houston at times and, if not always sounding 100 percent like her, comes pretty darn close more often than not.

The good news is that the production, after years of touring, seems tighter and better than ever, with colourful, imaginative lighting and a few new costumes since it was last seen locally.

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Belinda Davids performs I’m Every Woman.

Houston fans are sure to be every bit as delighted as the ample audience that whooped in delight and was easily moved to stand and sway, clap and sing along, or rise for a standing ovation, as happened on the night I attended recently.

The show opens with a montage of Houston images projected on to a central screen. It hangs above a fine band comprising a South African bassist, Aussie drummer, New Zealand keyboardist, saxophonist and flautist, Canadian pianist and musical director, German lead guitarist and two female backing vocalists.

Opening with I’m Every Woman, the production, also featuring four dancers who come and go throughout the show, embraces all the Houston classics.

A big highlight is a showstopping rendition of the dramatic  I Have Nothing, in which Houston is shown on screen performing the song live at the 1993 Billboard Awards, while Davids, in a similar red, fringed dress, does the actual singing, copying Houston’s ever move on the screen behind her. Very effective.

Saving All My Love For You is another special moment, in which Davids snakes through the auditorium with help from a crew member. Other standouts include The Greatest Love of All, Dance With Somebody, One Moment in Time, Where Do Broken Hearts Go?, Step By Step, All At Once, So Emotional and My Love is Your Love. The finale, of course, is the classic penned by Parton.

The Greatest Love of All: The Whitney Houston Show has final performances at 8pm on January 2, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14, and 3pm on January 8 and 15.

Tickets cost R295 each throughout and booking is at Computicket outlets or the Sibaya Casino box-office.


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