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Respect La Diva - Garrick Theatre (review)

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

RESPECT La Diva is billed as a musical tribute to some of the greatest female singers of all time and that’s exactly what it is – nothing more, nothing less. Yet more significantly perhaps, it was conceived and is directed by Adrian Grant, the creator of Thriller Live, so it’s by no means an amateurish production.

In fact, it’s slick, fast paced and brimming with high octane energy. More importantly, however, it has a message – to raise awareness of domestic violence and abuse against women and children – and to this end, it’s supporting the charity Refuge (you’ll find details of how you can help below).

So what exactly do we mean by the term Diva? Taken from the Latin word meaning ‘goddess’ or ‘divine one’, it’s used to describe a woman who is so incredibly talented that her voice approaches the divine.

Originally the province of prima donnas from the operatic world, it has now spilled over into other musical genres and includes performers such as Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey. And it’s women like these that Respect La Diva is inducting into its first ever Diva Hall of Fame.

Performing just some of their many hits are Sheila Ferguson, who shot to fame in the 1970s as the lead singer of the popular girl group The Three Degrees, Katy Setterfield, Denise Pearson and Zoe Birkett and, without exception, they deliver the goods.

However, I had expected more from Setterfield’s homage to Dusty Springfield – where, for instance, was Springfield’s biggest hit, the timeless and hauntingly beautiful You Don’t Have To say You Love Me? That said, I couldn’t help but admire Setterfield’s ability to immerse herself in song when she was in very real danger of being upstaged by the antics of Tosh Wanogho Maud’s rookie technician.

The four lead singers are accompanied not only by an excellent onstage band but also by five dancers – three males (one remarkably like a young Barack Obama) and two females – plus a trio of girls known as The Divines (what else!). In what is surely a coup for rounder ladies everywhere, these three are not uniformly size 8 but come in varying shapes and sizes – a refreshing change in an age obsessed with gauntness rather than curves.

Helping things along and providing continuity is Andy Abraham who also gets to perform and foster a spot of enthusiastic audience participation – at least when he’s not being frustrated by Manal El-Feitury’s sound technician, within whom beats the heart of a thwarted Diva. Together they provide some pleasantly amusing diversions.

Respect La Diva is loud, colourful and good to look at, thanks in part to Jason Brooks’ inspired video content design. More importantly, it entertains and, if the reaction to Friday night’s performance is anything to go by (September 9, 2011), it has audiences begging for more. It also has that very important message. Of course, it may not be to everyone’s taste but for anyone who’s enjoyed Thriller Live, it won’t disappoint.

Respect La Diva Gallery

Respect La Diva continues at the Garrick Theatre until September 24, 2011.

NB: Respect La Diva and Refuge have set up a special mobile text donation line where you text the code DIVA40 to 70070 and pledge an amount of up to £10 (e.g. ‘DIVA40 £10’). The text is free to send and the donation will be added to standard phone bills.