Opening with the explosive power of a Bond movie, "The Bodyguard The Musical" doesn’t raise the curtain so much as kick the door in. Pyrotechnics immediately follow, both the flaming and vocal kind, as Alexandrea Burke bursts onstage as the diva superstar, Rachel Marron, accompanied by a troupe of energetic dancers. Straight away we’re off at the races and it’s all looking good. But "The Bodyguard The Musical" is a marathon not a sprint, and things soon begin to slow down. And then to lag. And then to trip over themselves a little, returning to the highs far less often than you’d like. Clunky and imbalanced, "The Bodyguard The Musical" feels odd until you realise it’s actually two shows happening simultaneously. The first delivers a pastiche of the 1992 movie, The Bodyguard, that borders on parody. But that’s only to set up the real, and far more impressive show; a thinly disguised Whitney Houston Songbook. Which includes all the Houston classics, including several not featured in the original movie.
A hardworking, if lacklustre, reimagining of the thrilling 1992 movie staring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, "The Bodyguard The Musical" finds diva, Rachel Marron, reluctantly agreeing to being watched over by professional bodyguard, Frank Farmer. A man also responsible for protecting her sister, Nicki, and Rachel’s ten year old son, Fletcher, following a series of eerie letters. With an Oscar night performance approaching, and a lunatic fan on the loose, Frank needs to keep a clear head so he can function. Yet he can’t help falling for Rachel, and caring for Nicki and Fletcher, which comes at a costly price. In the end it’s a choice between his job or his lover. And if you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not going to spoil the ending.
From very early on "The Bodyguard The Musical" is a production at war with itself, where The Bodyguard segment is badly told, but The Musical part is brilliantly played. In its efforts to reimagine the movie to accommodate additional Houston tracks, "The Bodyguard The Musical" fights an uphill battle for making too many problematic choices. Indeed, the tension between story and singing is something director, Thea Sharrock, never quite gets to grips with, and story suffers badly. Benoît Maréchal’s Frank, channeling Daniel Craig rather than Kevin Costner, is a man so emotionally wooden he risks being mistaken for part of the furniture. Albeit an expensive, attractive piece of furniture. Phil Atkinson as The Stalker suffers a similar fate. With his ripped abs garnering woos and laughs, The Stalker looks pantomime laughable rather than remotely dangerous. Too often, like the transition into lovers, or the visually impressive, slow motion rescue, key scenes are unconvincingly managed. You might run with them, but you won’t run to them. And you certainly don’t buy them. But you bought the ticket, so you might as well hang around for the sublime singing.
All off which leaves an impressive Alexandrea Burke as Rachel, and Holly Liburd as Nicki (standing in for Micha Richardson) to carry all the emotional weight. Which they do superbly, particularly in song. Making the Whitney Houston Songbook selection the far more rewarding experience, with Maréchal delivering the best worse, karaoke rendition of I Will Always Love You ever. If Liburd’s oft impressive vocals struggle at the upper register, what Liburd might lack in power and range she more than makes up for with passion and depth. All of which Burke delivers and then some, carrying the lion’s share of the vocals, and the heart, of the show. Few can rise to the challenge of a Whitney Huston song, but Burke does so superbly, channelling her inner Tina Turner at times as well as Houston, to deliver a performance that’s quintessentially Burke.
If there’s loose dancing sequences and problem mics at times, they prove the exception to the rule in this taut production whose sliding set and costumes by Tim Hatley, and superb lighting design by Mark Henderson, make for a visually sumptuous spectacle. Indeed, if Sharrock struggles to direct the action as a whole, she excels at creating music video moments with the aid of her technical creatives. "The Bodyguard The Musical" might not have a lot of heart and soul, but there’s a lot of sparkle, even if some is more rhinestones than diamonds. But it still has jewels in its crown, including a cracking karaoke scene, a haunting rendition of I Have Nothing, and a Vegas worthy I Will Always Love You. A second rate story crashing against some first class singing, "The Bodyguard The Musical" is a big show, with big moments, and an irresistibly big finish, whose singing is sure to delight fans of Burke and Houston alike.
"The Bodyguard The Musical” presented by Michael Harrison and David Ian, with Big Group/Freddy Burger, David Mirvish, Tulchin/Bartner, Michael Watt and John Frost, runs at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until August 17.
For more information, visit Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.