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Whitney - Queen of the Night

Breathtaking performance of the songs of Whitney Houston.
New Theatre, Oxford, Tue 25 September 2018

September 26, 2018
Queen of the Night

Whitney Houston sold over 200 million records worldwide during her career, and the Guinness Book of World Records records her as the most awarded female artist of all time. Tonight’s show at the New Theatre is a celebration of her achievements, which concentrates firmly on her music and not on the tumultuous private life which led to her untimely death in 2012.

Most of the audience is made up of die-hard Whitney fans who dance and sway their way through the show. And this is most definitely a show for die-hard fans.

Shanice Smith, a South London singer and former Brit School pupil, lives up to the unenviable task of bringing Whitney back onto the stage. Her voice has resonance as she slides into the upper registers on ballads such as Saving All My Love For You. On up-tempo numbers - My Love is Your Love is an audience favourite - she also reveals a talent for dance. Smith’s infectious energy is all the more impressive given the frequent costume changes throughout the two-hour show. This is a piece of musical theatre which seems to have its hair done every five minutes.

Between songs, Smith delivers anecdotes and information on Whitney’s life and achievements, a feat in which she is joined by members of the all-girl vocal trio who support her performance.

The singers are backed by a five-piece band consisting of alto saxophone, keyboard, guitar, bass and drums. The musicians keep themselves pinned to the back of the stage ,with the sole exception of the saxophonist who steps forward for a few 80s-tinged solos.

In the end it is I Wanna Dance With Somebody and I Will Always Love You that win the most enthusiastic audience response. Even doubters whoop and cheer. Only time will tell Whitney Houston was, as they claim, one of the greatest singers of all time.

November 10, 2017

Last night, Oxford audiences had a chance to reconnect with their memories of the great multi-award winning singer Whitney Houston, and to their experiences of the 1980s and 1990s. Paul Roberts Productions has put together a magnificent tribute show which has been touring since 2015 and has had success with the public all over Britain.

The production has excellent creative team to deliver on the idea of a tribute: Mike Pagett, who has a wealth of jazz experience including playing in Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club as its musical director and drummer; Steve Turner, who had toured with Kylie Minogue and Beyoncé among others as an orchestral arranger; David Swann and Derek Baxter on guitar and bass guitar; and Kit Mulnar, who produced saxophone solos in many of the show’s numbers.

The top-notch choreography of the lead singer and her backing vocalists - styled in the manner of Motown shows - was delivered by Leona Marie. The show has had several leading ladies in the past, including Rebecca Freckleton, who is still featured in the programme, but the woman who performed Whitney’s songs tonight in Oxford was the wonderful and powerful South London-based Shanice Smith, known as Shan Smile.

The show was very wisely devised to bring back the emotional memories of the audience, and in many instances the Oxford public became active participants of the show: singing along, doing the choruses, dancing in the aisles to I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and sometimes even trying to produce the well-known lines before Shanice herself. Even those who began the concert slightly wary of all the enthusiasm that oozed from the public ended by standing up and clapping along to the rhythm of Whitney’s songs.

Shanice Smith was very emotional and open in her interactions with the public, making eye contact with the audience and giving positive feedback on particular individuals’ singing (!), which sparkled the audience into laughter. Luckily, she did not pretend to be a Whitney persona herself, but was always commemorating her memory, mentioning facts from her biography and leading us through her career of the 1980s and 1990s.

Of course, the show would not be what it was devised to be if Shanice’s voice was not up to Houston’s standards. Although she has a slightly different timbre which has a hint of shrillness on the highest notes and steered away from the velvety low tones of Whitney’s, Smith still showed an outstanding range and mastery, including the changes from powerful singing to tender tremolos and vibrations required for soul and R&B music.

She changed her costume seven times during the show, and appeared in wonderful gowns and urban-styled jeans and leather jackets, changing her vocal delivery styles accordingly. She was perfect in such hits as ‘I’m Every Woman’, ‘Saving All My Love’, ‘How Will I Know’, ‘I Have Nothing’ and was really Whitney-like during the song ‘Queen of the Night’ when she appeared dressed exactly like Rachel Marron (a singer played by Houston in ‘The Bodyguard’). The gospel hits ‘Step By Step’ and ‘Jesus Loves Me’ were also wonderful, especially as she was joined by the her look-alike younger sister who stepped from the back vocals and produced wonderfully rich singing. It is only in singing ballads such as ‘I Will Always Love You’ that Shanice Smith shows a slight hint of lacking Houston’s maturity, the delivery just a bit too quick and powerful for it to really resonate emotionally.

The occasional sing-along from the audience was a slight interruption into the atmosphere, but it only proved their willingness to connect and the popularity of the Queen of the Night’s hits. Overall, it was an extremely emotional evening, ending in a standing ovation from the energised and thrilled Oxford public.

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