I came to this show neutral, but curious. Whitney Houston, upon whose music, the show depends, has always been an enigma for me. A fine singer for sure, but neither she, nor her music, ever touched me. She entertained, but never won me over. Nevertheless her music has sold millions of records so familiarity, if not love, was never going to be a problem.
The star of the show is X Factor reality show winner Alexandra Burke. A criticism of the format is that it launches careers of singers vocally up to professional standard without offering the building blocks of experience which helps that vocal talent to be realised. A two and a half hour musical show provides nowhere to hide.
The advance word of mouth for the show was strong, the London run impressive, ticket sales frenetic, and a full first Friday night house was crackling with expectation as the cast exploded into the first number “Queen of the Night”, and from that moment on, the show never looked back. The film narrative has been simplified, the soundtrack beefed up with more of Whitney’s back catalogue, the staging is lavish and innovative.
No-one will have any problem following the plot. Rachel Marron (Alexandra Burke), international single parent superstar is threatened by a stalker, Frank Farmer (Stuart Reid)is the bodyguard hired to protect her. They fall in love, they part, he saves her life, and… she will always love him…
Burke is tremendous, nearly always on stage, and boasting a quantum of costume changes which will leave Diana Ross green with envy. Indeed there are so many that at one point she simply changes on stage, her modesty protected by little more than dim lighting. All the big numbers are here, One Moment in Time, I’m Every Woman, I Want to Dance With Somebody, So Emotional, All The Man That I Need, The Greatest Love of All How Will I Know and of course I Will Always Love You.
Melissa James plays Rachel’s sister Nikki ,and sets a formidable standard for Burke with her reading of Saving All My Love For You before duetting with her on Run to You. Reid reprises Pierce Brosnan’s comedy vocal performance in Mama Mia with a hugely amusing and comic pastiche of “I Will Always Love You”.
Although ticket prices are high, so are production values. Designs are by the award-winning Tim Hatley (Betty Blue Eyes, Private Lives, Spamalot) alongside choreography by Arthur Pita (English National Opera, Royal Opera House, Young Vic), orchestrations by Chris Egan (Crazy For You, End Of The Rainbow, Grease), musical supervision by Mike Dixon (Never Forget, We Will Rock You), lighting by Mark Henderson (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Sound of Music, West Side Story), sound by Richard Brooker (Chess, A Christmas Carol, Jesus Christ Superstar) and video designs by Duncan McLean (Shrek, Evita, All New People).
The finale is glitzy, over the top and pure schmaltzy showbiz, big dress, elevating rostrum, sound cranked up to ten – you will never guess what she finishes with! British theatre audiences are rightly sparing with standing ovations, but when the raucous audience rose as one for the final number it was because the entire cast had earned it, and were rewarded with a sing-along, dance-along, encore.
A fabulous show packed with great songs, no little humour and immense energy and commitment from Burke, this is simply the best jukebox musical around and runs till 5th September, do whatever you have to do to catch it!