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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.