Director: Thea Sharrock
Choreographer: Karen Bruce
Reviewer: Helen Tope
A hit film with a killer soundtrack, The Bodyguard tells the story of superstar Rachel Marron. After receiving threatening letters from a stalker, Marron’s management hires the best protection in the business. Frank Farmer is a former Secret Service agent. Not impressed by Marron’s diva attitude, the new bodyguard tries to get Rachel to understand the seriousness of the threats. It is not until the stalker strikes close to home, that Marron realises the danger she is in.
The Bodyguard is an obvious candidate for a film-to-musical crossover. While Legally Blonde has plenty of perk, The Bodyguard not only has a set of indelible images from the original film, we have serious pop credentials from Whitney Houston. Combining the two concepts, the musical has found great success since its debut seven years ago.
A story of love and sacrifice, the important role to get right is Frank. Served with plenty of dry wit from Kevin Costner, Farmer is a man used to protecting politicians, not pop princesses. It’s an adjustment for all concerned. Frank, played tonight by understudy Simon Cotton, takes Costner’s lead and gives Frank a softness – especially in dealing with Rachel’s son Fletcher (Archie Smith) – that makes him highly watchable.
The musical, while borrowing from the 1992 film, does play around with some of the plot points. Streamlining the narrative can work in a production’s favour – especially when the musical numbers are as good as they are here – but at times, the plot feels rushed and over-simplified. The role of Nicki Marron is underused, although Micha Richardson as the star’s neglected sister gives us a taste of Marron’s disappointment, singing All The Man That I Need to an empty nightclub. An equal talent to her sister, Richardson delivers a portrait of a woman who has spent her life living in someone’s shadow.
Where the musical comes alive, as you might expect, is in the song and dance routines. Smartly choreographed by Karen Bruce, hits such as I’m Every Woman and Queen of the Night get the pyrotechnic treatment Houston would rightly expect. Bruce even adds a touch of Strictly Come Dancing, with Burke giving us some salsa moves. As Rachel Marron, Alexandra Burke utilises what she has learned in shows such as X-Factor and Strictly, winning us over quickly with charm and sparkle. She is clearly more comfortable during the musical numbers, but in a karaoke bar scene, Burke’s cool one-liners work really well.
With this production, it really is about what you want to prioritise. If good, meaty dialogue is important to you, this musical may leave you wanting. But if Whitney Houston’s songs have been the soundtrack to your life, this will be a must-see. While it’s impossible to replicate the Houston sound – the brightness and giddying whistle notes – Burke’s smoky tones lend a new edge to the music.
If The Bodyguard performs any service, it’s to remind us of Whitney Houston’s music. Packed with sunny highlights and yearning melodies, Houston’s legacy is, when viewed through this lens, a series of hooks and riffs that will have you from the very first beat. As a celebration of Whitney’s work, The Bodyguard will have you leaving the theatre with a head full of her songs – and that’s not a bad way to spend an evening.
Runs until Saturday 31 August 2019 | Image: Paul Coltas