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Respect La Diva

Produced and conceived by Adrian Grant
Garrick Theatre
(2011)

Respect La Diva production photo

Respect La Diva is a buoyant, spangley musical celebration of great female singers.

Conceived by Adrian Grant who brought the world Thriller Live, it brings together four female vocalists of repute, a superb backing group and a dance ensemble, a compère and a band; together they perform interpretations of classic songs from over half a decade.

I saw the show at the first preview and was won over by its energy and, of course, the thirty or so classic songs.

From the timeless "River Deep Mountain High" and "Stop in the Name of Love" to modern hits "If I Were A Boy" and "New York" there is pretty much something for everyone in this show, and I personally love that Judy Garland is represented without any rainbows attached.

There are as expected a host of real crowd pleasers for the ladies but it's not just about being "Dreamgirls" as host Andy Abrahams gets some space for "This is a man's world" which he shares with the audience, plus a nod to The Drifters and Stevie Wonder.

The style and content of the show makes this "Simply the Best" (sorry, I couldn't help it) for hen parties, divorce parties or in fact most girlie events, but its populism doesn't make it as trite as say Dreamboats and Petticoats largely because of the high quality of the singing.

The four leads are Sheila Ferguson (previously of mega-girl group The Three Degrees in case you need reminding), Denise Pearson (previously of 80s super band Five Star), Zoe Birkett (previously of Pop Idol who could belt out a song in the Olympics if singing were a sport) and Katy Setterfield (previously of BBC tribute show The One and Only) who gave her winning salute to Dusty Springfield and much more). It hardly needs saying that they can all sing so it really comes down to a matter of personal taste and Ms Ferguson comes across as the classiest by far, oozing good nature and personality as well as the vocal talent.

Andy Abrahams' unpretentious style works well here but he is burdened by an unsophisticated script.

There is a deviation about a wannabe singer which needs re-working and a rather lame theme devised by Adrian Grant about reaching the diva within ourselves that purposelessly involves the participation of some drama students. The sections about the term 'diva' and Grant's concept of a diva hall of fame could do with sharpening up too. That said, this was the first preview and it is this type of material that distinguishes a show from a concert.

If the design element has a flaw it is the video content but the money has probably all been splashed on magnificent frocks (designed by Stewart Charlesworth, though I also like Jonathan Park's set). This show is a frock lover's dream to rival Priscilla! Every song brings a costume change and the succession of ruffles, sequins, feathers, body glitter, legs and cleavages - and impossibly high heeled shoes - is joyfully dazzling.

Racky Plews' choreography takes a while to warm up being more exciting in the second act where dancers Tom Clark, Tosh Wanogho Maud, Myles Brown, Kate Morris and Danni Everdell handle the various styles and increasingly ambitious moves with ease.

The backing group is exceptional. Composed of the amazing Rietta Austin, Sabrina Ramikie and the young Danielle Steers they provide strong and charismatic vocal support but also shine when they get Shirley Bassey's "This is my life" to themselves. The fabulous songs are in similarly safe hands with musical director and arranger Andy Rumble and an excellent on-stage band of seven.

Respect La Diva is a welcome reminder of many terrific songs and the talent of some iconic singers but above all it is a fun evening.

"Respect La Diva" plays until 24 September and tours
This production of Respect La Diva has teamed up with national charity Refuge (www.refuge.org.uk) to support their specialist domestic violence services

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti