In 1983, legendary music producer Clive Davis discovered Whitney Houston in a New York nightclub. It was the start of a remarkable singing career that would span almost three decades and see Houston sell over 170 million albums, singles and videos. During the 80s, she had seven consecutive US Billboard Hot 100 number one hits, breaking a record previously held by The Beatles and the Bee Gees. And while her life ended in 2012 at the age of 48, her voice and her music remain loved by millions of fans across the world.
In January, Showtime Australia is bringing its critically-acclaimed live production, The Greatest Love of All – The Whitney Houston Show to audiences across the country. It’s a tribute to Houston that has travelled extensively around the world since its launch in 2013, chalking up shows in the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa, Asia, New Zealand and even some earlier shows here in Australia.
Leading the show as Houston is accomplished South African vocalist Belinda Davids, who cites the singer as her personal idol and the inspiration for her own singing career, which began at the age of 14. Davids has a four octave range has never had vocal training. She spoke to Theatre People about the show and what those yet to experience it can expect from the upcoming dates.
Davids remembers hearing Houston for the first time at a young age.
“She did a song with Teddy Pendergrass called ‘Hold Me’, and there was this purity in her voice that made me want to sound like that,” she says. “I think there was something that we all could relate to when we heard her and when we saw her.”
Davids also recalls how she came to be a part of The Greatest Love of All.
“Towards the end of 2011, my friend called me and said, ‘I have booked this audition spot for you for today at 1 o’clock’. I had a three-month-old baby, so I was not prepared for anything,” she says.
“He convinced me really quickly, and I went to my audition in Cape Town at the Artscape Theatre … and I got it and the rest is history!”
In fact, Showtime Australia conducted over 15,000 auditions across 12 countries to find precisely the right performer for the part.
Davids admits that, initially, she didn’t think the show would have a particularly long life.
“I thought it was just for that year and that was it,” she says. “I thought that people wouldn’t love the show because of how I portray Whitney Houston or how I deliver her music. But here we are, six years later, and we’ve travelled almost the whole world.”
This year, the UK’s BBC One TV network aired Even Better than the Real Thing, a competition for tribute acts at the top of their game. Davids took out the show, performing as Houston.
“It was an incredible experience, absolutely incredible,” she says.
(See Belinda Davids perform on Even Better than the Real Thing here)
Accompanying Davids’ on stage in The Greatest Love of All will be a six-piece live band, dancers, stunning replica costumes, and full-scale lighting and effects. The show takes audiences on a musical journey through the greatest hits of Houston’s career, including ‘I will always love you’, ‘I wanna dance with somebody’, ‘How will I know’, ‘One moment in time’, and ‘I have nothing’.
Davids is asked to single out tracks from Houston’s extensive back catalogue that she continues to look forward to performing each night. One of them, she says, is ‘Greatest Love of All’, the show’s title track.
“When I do that song, I really get into it,” she says. “I’m always surprised at how emotional I get when I do it, so I always look forward to that.”
Davids has travelled to Australia previously with the show, but says it’s been updated since the last visit.
“We gave it a facelift,” she says. “We have different costumes, we’ve added some songs … [and] they are making me dance more – and I’m not a dancer!”
And she is very much excited to return.
“It’s going to be a better show, so I really look forward to coming back, I really do.”
THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL – THE WHITNEY HOUSTON SHOW SEASON DETAILS
Crown Perth – 9th January – Tickets via Ticketmaster
The Athenaeum, Melbourne – 11th, 12th, 13th, 19th, 20th, 26th and 27th January – Tickets via Ticketek
State Theatre, Sydney – 2nd February – Tickets via Ticketmaster
The Star, Gold Coast – 3rd February – Tickets via Ticketek