Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan
Book: Alexander Dinelaris
Director: Thea Sharrock
Love blossoms in the oddest of places, doesn’t it? Especially in a jukebox musical. Especially in a jukebox musical based upon a smash-hit 1992 romantic drama film. But Laurence Kasden’s The Bodyguard, largely down to Whitney Houston’s Oscar-nominated soundtrack, has propelled the story into the cultural zeitgeist. Adapted for the stage, Alexander Dinelaris’ musical adaptation follows the threads of the film – where a global superstar singer is at the mercy of a stalker, their death threats growing in ferocity. The answer? One man. One man whose experience and steely nerve might be the literal force between Rachel Marron and her death.
Though previous tours of the musical have refrained from expanding upon the original screenplay, this new touring production does make efforts to broaden the scope of spectacle to make up for the limitations in scripting. Bathed in fire and light, the musical makes a significant impact from the offshoot – pumping the audience’s adrenaline whether they asked for it or not. Rachel Marron, played by Melody Thornton, no stranger to the role, cascades the audience with their opening performance ofQueen of the Night, and despite some stiff choreography, sets the performance up for a fine evening.
There is a push to incorporate the age of the individual and culture of immediacy which comes with the modernisation of the production’s infusion of Duncan McLean’s video projection and additional imagery – the use of Instagram feeds and camera-phones offer a more dynamic shortcut for storytelling but do cause the pacing to feel a touch rushed. It allows the audience additional dimensions of narrative, but occasionally removes us from the theatricality of it all.
The nature of Ayden Callaghan’s role limits the complexity and history we receive for the titular Bodyguard Frank Farmer – there are moments where we see the man beneath, the losses he’s suffered and the motivations behind the career choice – and Callaghan makes the most of his limited scope. Farmer is charming, charismatic, and certainly capable of their job, but Callaghan’s performance lifts when interacting with an energetic Frankie Keita as Marron’s son Fletcher, toying with the taking jabs at the failed security or taking to the karaoke bar toscreechbelt out a rendition ofI Will Always Love Youwhich, whilst deliberately poor, conveys a wealth of character in its limited use. But don’t worry, this is just a precursor for the real showstopper.
Saved for the finale: the audience has chiefly been here for one moment – the power notes of Whitney Houston’sAnd I Will Always Love You. And to lead performer Thornton’s credit, where other solos have been lacking the pristine sound or weight of the lyrics, their performance of the juggernaut classic is pitch-perfect and delivers exactly what the crowds have longed for. But Thornton has a fair way to go to grasp the characterisation of superstar singer Rachel Marron, managing to strike some of the production’s other significant moments, but offers a fleeting pass at imbuing emotional integrity in many of the scenes, particularly when paired against Emily-Mae, playing their onstage sister Nicki Marron.
Controlled and performed to the theatrical standards one would expect, Emily-Mae is a superb addition to the cast and lifts the role of Rachel Marron’s over-shadowed sister into the light. Vocally, they are the sharpest performer on stage, the gravity conveyed through their performance is touching, drawing on the meaning of Houston’s lyrics and forging a connection with the audience.
But Emily-Mae’s candour makes the perfect counterbalance to Rachel’s fame as a vulnerable young woman whose desperation to feel included, to have their moment, leaves them at the mercy of the production’s sinister and largely silent antagonist. Mercifully, the recent touring production rejects the previously obsessive (and frankly dangerous) sexualisation of the psychotic stalker, here Marios Nicolaides is afforded the bloodlust and threat so they can pervert the otherwise dramatic and comedy jukebox musical, providing genuine moments of tension when the pair with Mark Henderson’s sudden and sharp lighting.
If you’ve been saving all your love for this, then you won’t be disappointed.The Bodyguardwill call to audiences, its history and familiarity will conjure up nostalgia for those familiar with the film or the award-winning album. There are limitations within the cast who sometimes feel a touch tired, but whenThe Bodyguardfires on all cylinders, it’s unlike any other show and will capture the hearts and groove of audiences.
Runs until 25 February 2023, then continues touring | Image: