It's impossible to view this musical without realizing its poignant significance as Whitney Houston's final appearance, particularly when she asks, "Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?"
Houston plays imperious Emma, a former entertainer who has become a prim `n' proper Detroit church lady. When her three daughters - Sister (Carmen Ejogo), the eldest; aspiring med student Delores (TilkaSumpter); and the youngest Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) - form a Supremes-like trio, calling themselves Sister and her Sisters, Emma is distraught. But to no avail. They not only become Motown-famous but the national spotlight beckons -- if they can ever escape from under their dominating mother's roof. Though they're already grown-up, Emma makes them do an hour of Bible study for every hour of television they're allowed to watch.
While shy Sparkle writes the songs, Sister starts out as the sultry lead singer who's swept away by a smarmy comedian suitor named Satin (Mike Epps). It's only a matter of time before Sparkle will gain enough confidence to go out on her own as a singer/songwriter with the support of her ambitious manager/boyfriend Stix (Derek Luke). Then lots of heavy-handed melodrama intervenes with drug abuse, addiction and murder.
Unevenly written by Mara Brock Akil, it's based on a story by Joel Schumacher and Howard Rosenman and a remake of the 1976 "Dreamgirls"-evoking film "Sparkle," except the timeline's been transferred from 1950s Harlem to late-1960sDetroit. Director SalimAkil ("Jumping the Broom") puts an emphasis on the clumsy, complicated, cliched relationships. In the earlier version, Emma was a worn-out domestic; now, she's a defiantly middle-class former pop singer who never quite made it but can still rattle the church rafters when she's singing in the choir.
Although 2006 American Idol winner Jordin Sparks is, ostensibly, the star, it's Whitney Houston who steals the show with her solo gospel rendition of "His Eye Is On the Sparrow."
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Sparkle" is a sudsy, spirited 6 -- with a memorable soundtrack and "Celebrate" serving as Houston's unintentional cinematic swansong.