Review by Daz Gale
After two West End runs, The Bodyguard is back in London for one moment in time as part of a new extensive UK tour. Having been a huge fan and repeated visitor of the show in both of its West End homes, I was excited to see a show I unashamedly adore for the first time in 6 years but without the huge production value of the West End, would it be a case of me always loving this show or would I find that it had nothing?
Based on the iconic 1992 movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, the musical adaptation of The Bodyguard premiered in the West End in 2012 and has since played all over the world including tours in America and Australia. This latest iteration is the third time the show has toured the UK, and with a soundtrack boasting some of Whitney Houstons greatest hits, it’s no surprise it has been so popular.
The Bodyguard tells the story of superstar Rachel Marron who finds herself in danger when a stalker sends her death threats. While she tries to keep her life in normal, she reluctantly has to deal with her new bodyguard Frank Farmer who is there to protect her. While they don’t hit it off at first, of course they fall in love (And Iiiiiiii. Wait, not yet) but can love survive when someone will stop at nothing to split them up? If you’ve seen the film, you already know the answer but humour me.
The screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan has been adapted by Alexander Dinelaris to retain all the essential elements from the movie, while adding a new twist, extra scenes and depth for characters. It also modernises the piece from its setting with the use of technology playing a part in it. A great story in itself, the new bits add a bit more to the story even if the tone does jump around occasionally.
How do you step into the iconic footsteps of the legendary Whitney Houston? As hard as that is, it may seem harder given the fact Heather Headley, Beverley Knight and Alexandra Burke all made the role of Rachel Marron their own in the West End. The unlikely answer to that is Melody Thornton, best known as one of the Pussycat Dolls in what is the second most surprising casting involving a member of a girl band this year.
While there may have been some split opinion to the news of that casting, she is an absolute revelation in the role. While certain aspects of her acting may not have always landed, her exceptional singing more than made up for it. Never feeling afraid of those big songs (you know the ones I mean), it was less a case of ‘I Have Nothing’ and more ‘I Have Everything’ thanks to her exceptional vocal talents. No wonder Nicole Scherzinger never let her have her microphone switched on in the group when she has pipes like THAT. Undoubtedly the best element of this production in a performance that should silence the nay-sayers. Don’t cha wish all of the Pussycat Dolls were this good in theatre?
This isn’t a one star show though and Melody’s co-stars more than rise to the occasion. Emily-Mae is sensational as Rachel’s sister Nicki. While she predominantly takes a back seat to allow her sister shine, Emily-Mae is constantly captivating where the slightest expression in her face tells you all you need to know about her character. The moment she gets to take centre stage to belt out some of Whitney’s classics, most notably ‘Saving All My Love For You’, are stunning and among the highlights of the evening.
Ayden Callaghan gives a pleasant performance as Frank Farmer. While the role can be fairly one-note thanks to Franks largely serious nature, Ayden gets to have fun with the role including his own take on a truly iconic number (And Iiiiii. Well, yes. Technically now). Graham Elwell and James Groom shine in their relatively small roles of Bill Devaney and Sy Spector, while Marios Nicolaides is fantastically sinister as The Stalker, giving a serious sense of dread at what he is capable of in a brilliant performance of a role that could so easily descend into panto villain in the wrong hands.
Of course the main selling point of The Bodyguard are the songs. Plucking some of the greatest numbers from Whitney Houston’s entire back catalogue, not just the ones from the original movie, some absolute classics are on display here. Melody Thornton shows her immense talents at numbers including ‘I Have Nothing’, ‘One Moment In Time’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ while showing what an impressive dancer she is with numbers such as ‘Queen Of The Night’. While nobody can ever match Whitney Houston, Melody and co do a good job of not making it feel like karaoke (apart from the karaoke section, that is).Beautifully orchestrated by Chris Egan with musical supervision Richard Beadle, these classic songs sound as glorious as ever.
When you have seen a show on a huge West End stage, you are aware it will have to be on a much smaller scale for a touring production, for various reasons. With that in mind, I didn’t expect this production to be anywhere near as slick visually. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed about the set design used for this. A real over-reliance on curtains (that wouldn’t behave themselves) led to a stage that looked far too sparse and empty, at times feeling dull. The cabin scene in act 2 was a refreshing change of pace but most other scenes seemed to lack due to this – it felt like a few more props (and a few less curtains) would have done wonders for raising the aesthetic of the show.
Other production elements were far more successful. Mark Hendersons lighting was great in its approach to turn performances into concert spectaculars while changing to more a dangerous mood at a moments notice. Karen Bruce’s choreography was always stunning, particularly in the complexities of opening number ‘Queen Of The Night’ while Richard Brookers sound design was faultless. While Duncan McLean’s video design looked impressive, some problems (presumably just on the night) led to it being blurry and out of sync at times, lessening the impact it should have had.
While it may have lacked the glitz and glamour of its West End counterpart and had a couple of questionable elements, there was still plenty to enjoy in this latest iteration of The Bodyguard. An absolute star turn from Melody Thornton was a fitting tribute to an icon and her timeless songs, while an equally mesmerising performance from Emily-Mae gave Melody a run for her money over who was the star of the show. The cast also handled a rather rowdy audience exceptionally, particularly when some pretty disgusting heckles were shouted. Fans of the movie, Whitney Houston or theatre in general will find plenty to enjoy in The Bodyguard. Not quite perfect, but easily good enough to ensure I will always love this show.
The Bodyguard is on tour around the UK until 30th December 2023.
For full dates and tickets, see https://www.thebodyguardmusical.com/
Photos by Paul Coltas