The show, hosted by 2005 X Factor runner-up Andy Abraham, is a high-energy run through over 30 songs made famous by divas from Aretha Franklin to Beyoncé, and performed by an impressive quartet of female singers.
Produced and directed by Adrian Grant (Thriller Live!), it opens with a Tina Turner number belted out by all four divas, setting the uncompromisingly loud tone for the evening. This is hardly unexpected, but the addition of one or two more ballads could have provided a little light and shade to proceedings.
This is not to criticise the vocal talents of the cast. Sheila Ferguson (The Three Degrees) does a good job of some Diana Ross numbers, and Katy Setterfield’s (BBC One’s The One And Only) uncanny turn as Dusty Springfield is just enough to avoid her being upstaged by a male dancer. Zoe Birkett (Pop Idol, Priscilla, Thriller Live!) is another step up vocally and is perhaps underused; her renditions of Etta James’ “At Last” and Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” are particularly impressive.
It is Denise Pearson (Five Star, Thriller Live!), however, who steals the show. She tackles songs spanning five decades, from Aretha Franklin’s “Think” (dressed in a startling confection of what looks like net curtains and black PVC) to Alicia Keys’ “Empire State Of Mind”. Her rendition of Beyoncé’s “Listen” rightly receives the most rapturous applause of the night.
The divas are ably accompanied by an eight-piece on-stage band and some talented backing singers (Rietta Austin, Sabrina Ramikie and Danielle Steers, introduced as “The Divines”). The show’s affiliation with the charity Refuge is also commendable.
Less compelling are the side-story of a sound tech who longs to be a diva herself, and some of the dance routines; a segment with maracas and another with a tap-dancing airline pilot are especially baffling. It is also debatable whether Stevie Wonder’s songs should feature in a diva show, although they are enjoyable and give Andy Abraham a chance to demonstrate his own vocal talents (which surpass his hosting skills).
Overall, Respect La Diva is an uncomplicated evening of entertainment with some stand-out moments, and should enjoy a successful national tour after its limited run at the Garrick.
- Emma Watkins