CentralDramaMusicalReview

The Bodyguard – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book: Alexander Dinelaris

Director: Thea Sharrock

Rachel Marron is an international multi-award-winning pop superstar, on the verge of winning an Oscar for a song she wrote with her sister and general factotum, Nicki. But her management has been keeping something from her – she has an obsessive stalker who has been sending threatening notes. And he’s obviously not just any crank as he seems able to slip past what passes for security around her. So her management hires Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent, to protect her and navigate the conflict between the artist being public property and her safety. Inevitably, there’s friction at first, then a thawing of relations. There’s even a hint of sibling rivalry. But can Frank really protect Rachel against her obsessive fan?

As with the film on which it’s based, The Bodyguard uses Whitney Houston songs to good effect, and never more so than in the lavish set pieces taken from Rachel’s stage show. Here we have glitter, high-energy athletic choreography from Karen Bruce and pyrotechnics that add up to a great experience. The simple staging from set designer, Tim Hatley allows the whole to move seamlessly; the use of drapes helps provide for intimacy when required while a good use of projections provides background. Indeed, if the show were a cabaret of Houston’s songs performed by Rachel and the ensemble, it would undoubtedly be excellent. But there’s the question of the plot, which is desperately thin with holes that leave one struggling to suspend one’s disbelief. Most of the characters are two-dimensional caricatures – including the stalker who might give a few jumpscares, but otherwise is just not very scary. None of this is the actors’ fault, it must be said: the balance between exposition and lavish musical numbers means that the book is thin and character development largely overlooked. While there are some superb and touching moments in song – Nicki’s Saving All My Love For You, and the duet Run to You by Rachel and Nicki as they come to terms with developing feelings for Frank are both poignant moments – most of the songs do not carry the story, rather they provide punctuation and supporting evidence, as if it were needed, of Rachel’s singing talent.

As Rachel, Emily Williams brings charisma and stage presence. Her powerhouse voice rocks the auditorium; she is equally at home with a power ballad or more reflective piece. And her rendition of I Will Always Love You certainly hits the mark. But the book doesn’t really allow her to show much emotional depth between songs. Ayden Callaghan as the fish-out-of-water bodyguard seems strangely stiff and shouty. Occasionally, we’ll see hints of a tender side, but the shutters are mostly kept firmly in place. The most rounded character is Emily-Mae’s Nicki. We can empathise with her feelings as the overlooked sister and the actions she takes. Her emotional journey during the show feels genuine. And she too has a cracking soul voice that soars and fills the auditorium.

If you’re a soul and pop aficionado, then the glitz of the excellent set pieces might well be enough for you to love the show. But if you’re looking for depth, then you’re likely to be disappointed.

Runs until 30 December 2023 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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