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Whitney Lives On, On Stage

February 14, 2012

Last week, I stumbled upon this amazing video of Whitney Houston at the 1994 American Music Awards performing a medley of some Broadway classics followed by one of her own hits. I immediately thought this would be the perfect way to start getting people as excited as I am about the long-awaited stage adaptation of the 1992 hit musical film The Bodyguard. But on Saturday, before I could complete my thoughts, I was shocked to hear that the legendary diva had passed away. Along with the rest of her fans, I mourn the loss of perhaps the most talented pop singer of the past century. Any singer will tell you that Whitney had a true gift. She had an impeccable ear, a clear, resounding voice, and the ability to interpret songs with artful grace.

She begins this performance with a more pop-oriented rendition of "I Loves You Porgy" from the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, now enjoying a Broadway revival (in a rebooted, more traditionally musical theatre form) starring Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, and David Alan Grier. She then moves on to an excerpt of the stunning and heartbreaking ballad "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from the 1981 musical Dreamgirls. And she caps off her performance with "I Have Nothing" from her own film, The Bodyguard.

This medley is not only elegant and moving, but it represents a history and evolution of African-Americans, and more specifically, African-American women, in musical entertainment; it moves from America's first folk opera to one of the defining and most successful musicals with an all-African-American cast to a full blown movie musical sensation with an African-American star (and featuring an interracial romance). Whitney's performance is as inspirational as it is beautiful.

The crowning achievement of her career, The Bodyguard cemented Houston as a bona fide pop star and showcased her dramatic talents. Aside from "I Have Nothing," the soundtrack to the film includes such memorable songs as "Queen of the Night," "Run to You," "I'm Every Woman," and, of course, the ultimate ballad, "I Will Always Love You." I couldn't have been more excited to hear that the film was being adapted for the stage. And I was even more excited to hear that Heather Headley was tapped to star. If you need convincing that she can handle the role, just listen to her belt out "Shadowland" from the original Broadway cast recording of The Lion King or "Easy As Life" from the original Broadway cast recording of Aida. After this difficult time, it is good to know that Whitney's legacy is in good hands and that it will survive in yet another medium: the living tradition of theatre. Whitney, you'll always be in our hearts.

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