The show, which kicked off in Sheffield, England, features a digital reincarnation of Whitney, along with live musicians and dancers, as her holographic doppelgänger sings, struts and shimmies through some of her biggest songs, including 1985’s “How Will I Know,” 1986’s “Greatest Love of All” and 1987’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” The repertoire also includes the Dolly Parton-penned earworm “I Will Always Love You” from the 1992 film “The Bodyguard,” in which Houston starred opposite Kevin Costner, and a 1990 live cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” that was remixed by Kygo and released as a single last year.
After the show ended, one premiere attendee — who goes by the Twitter handle @alicebogdanska — expressed confusion about what she’d just witnessed, saying she “can’t believe I’ve just been to see a hologram of Whitney Houston, what a mind f–k.”
A music critic suggested that the concert was crass exploitation.
“In life, Whitney Houston was exploited by everyone around her,” wrote UK Mirror critic Alun Palmer. “So why should passing to the great beyond make any difference when there is money still to be made?” He added that “as any horror movie fan will tell you, bringing the dead back to life never works out well” and later suggested that “it’s probably best to let sleeping stars lie.”
But the spectacle also had its defenders who thought it was the greatest love-fest of all.
“WOW… So #AnEveningWithWhitney was incredible!” tweeted one fan in attendance, who noted that the “only” song the digital diva didn’t sing was her 1988 single “One Moment in Time.”
Even before the Whitney Houston show premiered, fans believed it was one moment in time worth avoiding. One Twitter commenter recently suggested the tour “reeks like a desperate money grab” and added that “her estate should be ashamed,” while another made use of the hashtag #disrespectful and wondered, “How dare people profit from such nonsense!”
Another Houston devotee said, “The hologram Whitney Houston show just makes me really sad & feels like she is being exploited all over again.” And the LGBTQ site NewNowNext suggested Monday that it could be “the greatest flub of all.”
The kickoff 2020 UK concert was the first of two dozen currently-scheduled overseas stops; the show is expected to hit North America in the fall.
Whitney’s own cousin, singer Dionne Warwick, recently discussed the show, saying she was “very annoyed” about it and that she had spoken with legendary producer Clive Davis — who first signed Whitney to Arista Records in 1983 — and “he’s quite angry about it.” (Whitney’s mother, Cissy Houston, is Warwick’s aunt.)
“It just can’t happen. It just can’t,” Warwick said, adding, “Not if I have anything to do with it. I’m in the process of … they are NOT going on tour with it.”
“An Evening With Whitney” was created in partnership with the late singer’s estate by Base Hologram, which previously launched productions with digital appearances by rock pioneers Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly. On Saturday, a holographic clone of opera legend Maria Callas graced the stage — along with a full orchestra — at the Orpheum Theater in Vancouver, British Columbia, a performance the Toronto-based Globe and Mail called a “cool but weird spectacle.”
A search of available tickets on Ticketmaster indicates the opening night show was not sold out as of Tuesday afternoon.
But Whitney’s sister-in-law, Pat Houston, has sounded off in favor of the posthumous program.
“In the spirit of Whitney, I know we’re doing all the right things right now. This is something that she wanted to do,” she said of Whitney, whose untimely death at age 48 occurred on Feb. 11, 2012, the eve of that year’s Grammy Awards. “I get very emotional watching this, because it is so, so close to what she wanted.”
Meanwhile, one Twitter fan begged to differ. “There should be another hologram behind Whitney of Pat Houston counting her money,” they quipped. “This looks a mess!”
And the show’s director, Fatima Robinson, sees it as a salute to a legend, akin to firing up a video of a past show.
“To me, this is about remembering Whitney’s body of work, and it’s just like putting on a DVD of her performance and enjoying it — except with this you really feel like she’s back on that stage in front of you,” she told Fast Company.