THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL
The Whitney Houston Show, Reviewed
For many inner-city gay men in London, dancing to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Sombody in G-A-Y Heaven is a rite.
But on 11th February 2012, badly bopping to Whitney Houston with a plastic bottle of Smirnoff Ice in your left hand took-on a new meaning. The way queer culture accommodates and produces disruptive divas has been a powerfully provocative aspect of LGBT+ culture for decades. When these artists sadly leave us, it is up to us - their audience, their fans - to hold them with reverence and honour them; beyond 99p downloads from Top 40 charts.
“We’re celebrating the music of Whitney Houston, so that means we have to get up and dance," Belinda Davids bellows to the crowd. I'm standing in the back of the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London. Opting to ditch my seat in favour of standing up to dance by the doors, I was joined by an adorable gay couple to my side. On first glance, I'd never suspect either to be Houston fans; they were both built like a Citroen Picasso and I thought they'd ask me for I.D when I came in. They were dancing left, right, up and down to every song that the South African singer Davids vocalised for the Greatest Love of All: The Whitney Houston Show.
Davids, who was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, began performing professionally at the age of 14. With her four-octave range, her Spotfiy page could easily span any genre. Her trade is mainly R&B but today, within an ariose lineage that spans Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, and Donna Hathaway, Davids took to the West London stage to bring Whitney Houston's repertoire back to life. This following a 10/10 tribute tour in Australia last year.
This act tails Davids' win of BBC One's Even Better than the Real Thing in 2017, which showcases the best musical tribute acts in the UK. Even when stripping away the replica costumes (I counted five costume changes throughout the two-hour set), live dancers, and candypop neon light displays, it's undeniable that Davids is a talent.
Accompanied by the sensational 30-piece National Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the homage to one of the world's most revered singers was ringing with warmth and charm. The tight tunes of the orchestra managed to match the raw notes of Davids.
Speaking to the crowd, Davids introduces herself: "When I was a young girl, i always wanted to sing like her [Whitney Houston]. Tonight, it’s an honour to play tribute to the Queen of Pop.” And so she did, as she broke into the ballad, All the Man That I Need. "It's not the same," she belted. Indeed, it wasn't the same. As Davids' voice boomed and the audience reached high with their iPhone 8's to capture the moment, it strikes you mid-nostalgic reverie the realisation that Davids is, spoiler alert, not Houston.
What Davids achieves is a powerful rendition of Houston's musicality without ever impersonating. Her rich tontality and register enabled her to blast I'm Every Woman, Didn't We Almost Have It All, Greatest Love of All, and Queen of the Night with ease. In a case of spiritual simulacrum, so many of the audience members would have to remind themselves that Davids is not the late superstar. It creates an almost sepulchral atmosphere when Davids pounds out the ballads that silence the packed stadium in a way only Whitney Houston could have.
A pair of doormen had now joined me in the back. Davids was singing Didn't We Almost Have It All, and they had dipped from their shifts to catch a sight of Davids. As the pair shrieked and hollered, it's difficult not to imagine that this would have been anyone's reaction to seeing Houston herself perform live.
Like Houston, Davids had no formal vocal training. Davids sung with a commitment to replicating Houston's signature melimsa; the technique of singing a single syllable while moving between notes. From How Will I Know to Dance With Somebody, Davids' charisma captures the audience to get up and dance. "I know there is more than 10 people here," she quips when she asks the audience to cheer again.
In a change of tune, Davids navigates Houston's vast discography by soaring into I Have Nothing. She stands in the darkness, the Orchestra lowly-lit behind her in a ruby-red grown, behind a mute video of Houston performing the very same song. Davids replicates every movement and every feeling of Houston, who then walks into the audience while singing Saving All My Love For You - the first song Houston dropped back in '85.
During her final song, Davids bellows I Will Always Love You to a timeline of Houston's life behind her. A powerful reminder of not only the finitude of human mortality, but also the sheer power of art to supplant and live-on through the energy of its listeners.
The tribute industry has been going for over 40 years now, kept afloat by rentable poly-blend costumes, local council park festivals, and 8pm iTV entertainment shows. Seeing your favourite simulated singer as a thirtyplussomething fan who wants to relive the glory days is something many aspiring singers dip into and make careers from. But unlike the 29,119 mock Beatles tribute bands out there, Davids is different. This is no bootleg pop album or singalong. Belinda Davids is one of the few singers out there who can keep the spirit of the incomparable Whitney Houston alive and, like Houston, Davids will not be forgotten.