This is a strangely conceived and underwhelming show, occasionally elevated by the talent on stage. Essentially, it’s an assortment of classic soul hits (with a strong emphasis on Aretha, Ella, Billie and Etta) with a full orchestral backing – similar to how you remember them, but not quite as good.
Lisa Stansfield, Imelda May and Mica Paris have signed up for four songs each. May stands out, alone in consistently performing rather than reciting, bringing something new to every cover. Her rendition of Grandma’s Hands is weirdly sexy – low and husky, then building to a hot, brassy chorus. Her Fine And Mellow is fiery where Ella Fitzgerald’s was mournful, adding angry stabs from the horn section.
The night is seldom musically ambitious enough to excite
Mica Paris is powerful yet perfunctory, never really letting go until her take on You’re All I Need To Get By ends in a ballistic crescendo of scatting, ad-libs and machine gun sounds that earns an impromptu standing ovation. Lisa Stansfield, though spirited, rarely proves her voice is big enough to eclipse the orchestra. Conductor Guy Barker’s arrangements shine intermittently – a funked-up version of Son Of A Preacher Man kicks off with a driving bassline (here, Stansfield’s voice rises to the occasion); Black Coffee is given a more noir-ish tinge than the original, complementing Paris’ smoky vocals perfectly. Yet some of the most straightforwardly bluesy numbers – Bessie Smith’s On Revival Day, Billie Holiday’s God Bless The Child – are smooth-jazzed into oblivion.
Two hours are padded out with solo turns from the backing singers, and Vanessa Haynes deserves mention here for an impassioned delivery of I’d Rather Go Blind. The most enthusiastic audience members dance in the aisles during their favourite songs, but with three stars and a bevy of support acts, the night is too disjointed to feel cohesive, and seldom musically ambitious enough to excite.