Tweetingit: 4* Belinda Davids pays tribute to Whitney Houston in a sparkling show at the London Palladium. If only all Sunday nights could look and sound this good!
A film documentary entitled Can I Be Me spoke volumes for the painfully short life of Whitney Houston; interviews with those closest to her showed how she fought to simply be herself. An upbringing drenched in gospel set the template for a unique talent to blossom. Her mother Cissy Houston was a legendary session singer, her cousin the incomparable Dionne Warwick, her godmother was Darlene Love of the Crystals and an honorary aunt was Aretha Franklin; could Whitney have been anything else but a diva? She went on to record nine albums and sell in excess of 200 million records worldwide.
In spite of the adulation, glamour and wealth she yearned to be an authentic blues singer; just like the other women in her family. There’s a fine line between commercial success and critical acceptance; 13 chart topping US pop singles were not going to cut it. She had a stormy, tempestuous marraige to singer Bobby Brown. A union of two addictive personalities led both into regular periods of rehab. Three years after Whitney’s passing daughter Bobbi Kristina died aged 22; two tortured souls who left us far too soon.
But our consolation is the music of Whitney Houston. A succession of tribute acts continue to walk in her shadow; Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Leona Lewis all owe their careers to Whitney; Beyoncé should also nod in recognition of the path beaten by her. There are two ways for a tribute act to approach its subject; simply perform the songs of that artist or go for a full blown impersonation. Belinda Davids bravely goes for the latter. To master Whitney’s three octave voice is a challenge in itself; but to regularly hit both ends of register without distortion is a big ask. Belinda has toured the world as Whitney and her depth of appreciation is obvious.
As always, the London Palladium is a majestic, awe inspiring venue with an impressive sound system. The ever busy National Philharmonic Concert Orchestra were on hand as was a six piece band and four strong dance troop. The set kicked off with I’m every woman and was punctuated by frequent costume changes. A gold sequinned number gave way to a red leather suit as the band swung like crazy on I’m your baby tonight. A blue jumpsuit followed with a rousing version of the greatest love of all to complete the first half.
Belinda undoubtedly has a superb voice and fits Whitney’s vocal range like a glove. However, she only truly captured her inflection on certain songs; smashing it on Queen of the night and One moment in time for which she rightly received a standing ovation. However, some ballads like I have nothing felt strangely anonymous although competently performed.
Half way through Saving all my love for you, Belinda disappeared off stage and emerged in the stalls for a walkabout. It stirred up an already raucous audience as a security man nervously tracked her movements. Whilst a genuine attempt to connect with the audience she was trapped by people taking selfies. A girl later wandered on stage for a dance; perhaps assuming it was ok as Belinda had mingled in the stalls. It was the only blip in an otherwise brilliant performance. Curiously, I don’t recall that level of audience engagement at a Whitney gig. There was always an air of ‘call me Miss Houston’ and Belinda is much more personable than that. The finale predictably featured I wanna dance with somebody and a spine tingling I will always love you. This concert proves Whitney Houston was the very definition of class. But Belinda Davids is an outstanding artist and would love to see her perform in her own right. Maybe it’s time she asked the same question her idol did: ‘can I be me?’
Director: Johnny Van Grinsven
Producers: Showtime Australia/Flying Music Limited
Details of future shows can be found here