Leona Lewis, Hackney Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

Leona Lewis's first major homecoming gig wasn't going to be anything less than a fanciful affair designed for the modern diva. It's exactly the direction the Hackneyite has been groomed towards, given the past two years she's spent in the company of Simon Cowell and major players to diminish her reality-show ties and establish her credibility – not to mention the mystery that's surrounded her fantastical transformation, which appears to be the subtle theme tonight. Either that, or someone thought it'd be clever to toy with the idea of the good girl turned semi-bad with a show that plops the singer into the edgy arena of sinister interludes and the random accompaniment of six b-boying Shaolin types.

But the show's dramatic opener is ominous, alright. A close-up of the singer's masked face appears on a screen, and in the background, the dance crew take their positions as she waits behind, cloaked and ready for her cue. In an instant, dry ice fills the stage, and she whips off the garment to unveil her gorgeous self, dressed in a black and purple couture dress. She takes a few bold steps towards the audience before launching into a track from her forthcoming album, Echo. Within moments she's captivated the crowd with that killer falsetto and she does a little jiggle before asking ever so sweetly, "How ya feeling?". One could easily be left baffled by the melodrama, but overall, it's impressive.

Occasionally, the strategy flatlines; the visuals, lighting and band are awesome enough to mask her humble stage presence, but all this pales in comparison to the showpiece that is her majestic voice. She does a fantastic job with old faves "Whatever it Takes", "Better in Time" and "Bleeding Love". Yet it's her vulnerable performance of the Roberta Flack cover "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" that emerges as tonight's clincher.

The Lady Gaga-ish "Outta My Head" is another highlight, and Lewis even drops a few feline dance moves, indicating that her new album could launch her beyond sentimental escapism into the trendy pop market. Still, it's Lewis's endearing ascent to fame that's made her one of the biggest-selling artists around the globe; no matter how much she plays up her sound, or dabbles in artistic theatrics, she'll be the people's singing princess, who, after her fourth thank you, is still eternally grateful.