This juke box musical, adapted from the 1992 Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston film (her screen acting debut), is a celebratory remembrance of the now departed singer and her lingering songs which frame the thriller/love story plot. The rather slender scenario isn’t really beefed up for the legit adaptation, yielding instead to the music which succeeds in taking fans of the pop star and her musical material on a joyfull journey of nostalgic memory. Those unaware of the source material could well wonder what all the fuss was about.
Effectively embellished by laser lighting, stage fireworks and video projections, the production plays out almost as a stadium concert setting on the large procenium stage of Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre.
A caution here; as the house lights dim, a couple of seat-jarring, high decible explosive sounds resonate through the auditorium……then its curtain up!
The dancers and chorus labour with energetic verve throughout the show, a fitting backdrop (or backup) to the two top line characters. The spotlight follows Beverley Knight (“Queen of British Soul”) in a heated portrayal of pop diva/songwriter Rachel Marron who has eyes on winning an Oscar but is personally burdened by issues with sister Nicki (Rachel John). A talented singer who toils in Rachel’s shadow, the always considerate Nicki lurks on the fringes of her famous sibling’s star act as back up vocalist/dancer, go-for, and just being a support to Rachel’s ego. John has a rich, smooth tone, stirring support top notes and a yearning which compliments and contrasts with Knight’s gripping musical reading in their showstopping duet “Run To You”.
Knight is constantly in motion presenting an appealing rendering of a superstar songstress (suggestive of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga), putting her own styling, shading, and vocal theatrics to Houston hits like “I’m Every Woman,” “How Will I Know,” and “One Moment In Time.” Possessing strong pipes with the ability to rattle the rafters, the British songstress also takes it down to romantic levels (by today’s pop standards), which are still heavier beats above the tender repertoire out of last century’s Great American Songbook. This girl is good!
Convincing as an actress, Knight injects drama when her character is threatened by a stalker who sends ominous letters. The situation turns darker when the pursuer breaks into Rachel’s dressing room and steals a dress. A highly experienced security expert is taken on as her personal bodyguard, an arrangement that puts them at odds with one another. Frank Farmer (Stuart Reid) is all business with little regard for celebrity types with massive egos. Rachel, agitated about her freedom being curtailed, imediately lays out rules that allow her personal space, while Frank is expected to keep his distance. A sarcastic give-and-take dance ensues. In what seems a soap opera resolution, Frank signs on as protector when Rachel reveals she has a 10-year-old son.
Reid takes on a stoic demeanor as the no-nonsence security overseer with a singing voice that has served him well in many West End musicals. A budding romance between strict by-the-book professional and hotshot personality plays out realistically, their interracial relationship hardly stirs negative feelings in our “enlightened” era.
The plot point suggests this security assignment would be challenging, prestigious, and certainly interesting. Though Frank adheres to strict dicipline, over time his exposure to a musical environment, stirs tender feelings leading to a romantic attachment. The situation is solidified when he rescues Rachel from a dangerous encounter with the stalker during an engagement in a crowded nightclub. The chemistry between Reid and Knight grows pleasingly, making the relationship of the characters credible.
Oh Yes! Houston’s biggest successes, “I Will Always Love You,”, and “Greatest Love Of All” set emotions quivering, adding to the glitz, schmaltzy, singalong fun show that sells out night after night, As of this writing, the run has been extended through May 1st at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre.