by Grace Treston
Whitney Houston is a tricky star to emulate. The late performer is often paid tribute by professional and aspiring singers alike—perhaps so often that the impact is sometimes weakened. But for Broadway Sings Unplugged: Whitney Houston, the troupe of expert performers managed to perfectly encapsulate her talent and charisma.
Broadway Sings took on the legendary performer’s back catalog for a special night in The Green Room 42, and it was an undoubtable success. The team of eight singers came together to brilliantly channel the raw passion and honed skill of Houston. The evening’s set-list delighted us all. Luckily, it’s not hard to pick 15 great Whitney Houston songs. So many of her famous hits are a treat to hear live, and they’re all major crowd-pleasers. The hum of anticipation in The Green Room 42 was palpable, and the Broadway Sings ensemble fed off the venue’s energy.
One after the other, singers were met with increasing appraisal after their performance. When the time came for a singer’s second appearance onstage, they were met with roaring cheers—for we knew what was coming next. Each singer has a rich history of Broadway performances under their belt, ranging from The Lion King to Frozen to Waitress to Hamilton.
Vocal performances on the night were exceptional. Rock-solid riffs and sassy attitudes took over the stage without fail. Playing on the presumption that the audience wanted to leap straight into Houston’s most recognizable tracks, Amber Iman opened the show with “How Will I Know.” It was smiles all around when the first few chords blasted out from the talented live band.
Since the evening focused on “unplugged” arrangements of Whitney’s hits, it was a fabulous opportunity to hear well-known songs with a fresh ear. The set was performed with a truly unique sound, veering from jazz styles to fully stripped-back renditions. Musical direction and arrangements were the creative work of Joshua Stephen Kartes.
Although Broadway Sings has been a staple of the Highline Ballroom, the Unplugged series now has a monthly residency at The Green Room 42. Corey Mach not only directs and produces the shows, but also performs. His appearances were wonderful; and he showed his true star quality as he moved seamlessly past a small technical glitch. A faulty microphone was no match for Mach’s charm.
Nick Rashad Burroughs’ two appearances were spectacularly memorable. His strut on to the stage is something to behold, and it disarms you before he unleashes his soulful vocals. Since Nick was previously an understudy for the role of Lola in Kinky Boots, his vivacious moves were to be expected during “I Have Nothing” and “Didn’t We Almost Have It All.”
Ben Fankhauser treated us to “Run To You” in a moving moment of serenity onstage, and Stephanie Torns’ distinctive rendition of “I’m Every Woman” managed to be sultry and haunting all at once. Meanwhile, Kathryn Allison gave a beautiful performance of “I Believe in You and Me” at the show’s mid-point; she had heads swaying with her smooth melodies.
Two of the most memorable songs of the night were, unsurprisingly, “I Will Always Love You” and “Greatest Love of All,” performed by Raena White and Aisha Jackson respectively. As soon as the fateful first lyrics of “I Will Always Love You” echoed from White’s lips, the venue was silent. The talented singer, whose previous work includes Broadway’s The Lion King, did the iconic song justice, much to the delight of all.
“The Greatest Love of All” was the perfect end to the evening, and Aisha took to the stage with poise for the gargantuan number. The emotional finale was well-received, and the crowd were brought to its feet.
Broadway Sings Unplugged continues next month as they celebrate Justin Timberlake’s eclectic musical history on September 24 at The Green Room 42 (570 10th Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets in the Yotel Hotel). www.onfournyc.com or tickets here.