A mixed bag at Divas show
Divas Live '99 (Pop; Beacon Theater, New York; 3,107 capacity)
By David Sprague
NEW YORK (Variety) - Sequels: You can rarely sit through 'em, and you could easily live without 'em.
While Tuesday's "Divas Live '99,'' the follow-up to the ratings-boosting extravaganza that VH1 presented last year, didn't sink to the level of say, "Friday the 13th Part VI,'' the high-glitz, low-content presentation won't make anyone forget the original.
Where the first "Divas'' allowed a quintet of A-list songstresses to strut their solo stuff and team up in various permutations, this edition cut back considerably on the interaction, leaving less room for vocal fireworks or bouts of diva-like one-upsmanship.
When these moments were allowed to flourish -- as when Brandy and Faith Hill mugged through Bryan Adams' melodramatic "Everything I Do (I Do It for You)'' -- the performances seemed more suited to the live stage than the television presentation, which is admittedly a tough balance to strike.
Tina Turner did the best job of walking that tightrope, working the crowd feverishly during "Proud Mary'' and summoning up an appropriately claws-out tone when joining Elton John (with whom she reportedly tussled during rehearsals) for "The Bitch is Back.''
It was a bit disappointing to hear honorary diva John concentrate on songs from "Aida'' rather than his earlier catalog, but he did manage to throw in a few surprises during his rendition of "I'm Still Standing.''
Spontaneity, however, wasn't the order of the day, as evidenced by the sprinkling of vocal embellishments that might well have come from the "Diva in a Can'' product posited by one of the ersatz commercials delivered up by "Saturday Night Live'' cast members Molly Shannon and Cheri Oteri. Cher's "Believe'' was the most egregious example of taped trickery, but several of the other performers were clearly beneficiaries of the stuff as well.
If you were (to paraphrase Naughty by Nature) "down with O.T.T.'' -- as in Over The Top -- it might have been possible to appreciate the soulless vocal acrobatics that Whitney Houston unleashed during her overlong set. Otherwise, her scenery-chewing grew old quickly, reaching its nadir on "Ain't No Way,'' a poorly conceived tribute to last year's superdiva Aretha Franklin.
VH1 should be commended for staging the performance with consideration to the comfort of the inhouse audience, insofar as cameras and other equipment remained relatively unobtrusive for most of the show.
Presented by VH1. Performers: Tina Turner, Cher, Elton John, Whitney Houston, LeAnn Rimes, Brandy, Faith Hill, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige.
Reviewed April 13, 1999; Reuters/Variety
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