After a mixed reception following its announcement, An Evening with Whitney, The Holographic Tour has finally kicked off in the UK. With a mix of live backing dancers and musicians, the musical legend returns to the stage in holographic form to bring the audience an 80-minute show packed with her greatest hits.
There was no denying that the technology behind the show was jaw-dropping, and certainly from where we were sat in the dress circle, Holo-Whitney looked fairly impressive at times. There were the odd brief moments when you could almost forget that you were effectively watching a computer-generated image as you got caught up in the music, but those moments were fleeting and few and far between, as Holo-Whitney appeared and disappeared, fading in and fading out in an almost ghoul-like fashion between songs.
In terms of overall presentation, the live band was good, the backing singers held their own, the dancers made the best of the lacklustre choreography and the light show was adequate; although one has to wonder whether the abundance of spotlights flashing into the audience was to blind them to detract from the quality of the special effects on stage.
What was a pleasure, though, was to hear Whitney’s voice belt out her greatest hits in a concert venue backed by a live set of musicians, and the show was a reminder of just what a talent she was and how incredible she was as a live performer. The choice of songs would sit comfortably on any greatest hits album and covered a broad range of her work, ticking every Whitney staple you would expect.
Despite the music, the show can only be described as hollow (no pun intended). Holo-Whitney’s forced, generic one-sided banter with the audience felt almost as awkward as Holo-Whitney gushing as she received rapturous applause; although the rapturous applause anticipated by the creative team was, in reality, the bemused audience merely politely clapping and muttering to each other.
The four backing dancers looked lost on stage and were positioned in such a way around the set, it was as if they were dancing as far away from the technology as the insurance company would comfortably allow, and the interaction between star and backing dancers that you would usually expect during a live music event was noticeably missing. Adding to this was the tiny portion of the stage that Holo-Whitney occupied with her limited dance moves, shifting only a matter of a couple of metres each way from the centre of the stage and compounding the stilted, mechanical feeling of it all.
But the biggest criticism of all was that the evening was flat. There was none of the atmosphere, chemistry or relationship between artists and audience that makes a live music event such a great experience. Any live performer feeds off the energy of the crowd and gives it back to them, but this simply wasn’t possible and it really couldn’t have been more noticeable. There was no buzz in the auditorium and even the crowd, especially towards the end of the evening, couldn’t take it seriously. It simply felt cold and sterile; creepy and distant.
So, does An Evening with Whitney feel like a befitting tribute to a legend or more like a cynical cash in? The answer probably lies somewhere in between, albeit gravitating significantly more towards the latter. If you want to listen to Whitney Houston’s voice, then download her original recordings. If you want to go to a concert, then seek out a good tribute act, where at least there will be some energy coming from the stage. It felt that for many in the audience, the show was little more than a morbid curiosity which promised more than it delivered; and one which rapidly lost the majority of its appeal once the short-lived novelty of Holo-Whitney had worn off.