From the mind of the man behind Thriller Live comes a new musical celebration, not of one performer, but of a group of women who have written pop history.
Like the Michael Jackson extravaganza, RESPECT La Diva is not a plot-based musical, and never tries to be. Instead, it is a procession of classic pop tracks from the likes of Dusty Springfield, Tina Turner and Beyonce, performed by lead quartet Sheila Ferguson, Denise Pearson, Zoe Birkett and Katy Setterfield.
Former X-Factor finalist and Eurovision contestant Andy Abrahams comperes the evening, introducing acts, inducting them into the – newly created for the show – Diva Hall of Fame and encouraging the audience in their whooping and hollering. There’s a sweetly touching sub-plot about a stagehand who longs to be a performer – can you guess how that’s going to end? – a selection of themed-dance routines and a giant screen backdrop to the stage, but at its heart, RESPECT La Diva is about four good singers singing some of the greatest pop songs of all time.
Of the four, Birkett stands out. The former Pop Idol contestant is fierce on stage, attacking every song with power and enthusiasm. She gives everything to the performance and leaves nothing in reserve, notably blowing the audience away with her version of Etta James’s At Last.
Similarly Pearson – formerly one fifth of 80s group Five Star – brings a twitchy, high-energy vigour to the stage, giving the audience a full-blooded performance, while the Three Degrees’s Ferguson rolls back the years with some timeless vocals.
Setterfield, winner of BBC talent search The One And Only, has a touch less brio to her delivery, but impresses with impressively accurate impersonations of these iconic female stars.
While there are undoubtedly some moments that left the first night crowd scratching their heads – an airline pilot-themed routine, an odd-switch from upbeat anthems to a memorial for past performers, and children carrying candles spring to mind – they are counterbalanced by strong performances of classic songs.
This is not a show of subtlety and nuance, but of big, bold, toe-tapping, shoulder-jiggling, hand-waving, mid-aisle-dancing, wide-grinning, whooping pop enjoyment.