Who: Heather Headley, Lloyd Owen, Debbie Kurup, Mark Letheren, Ray Shell, Nicolas Colicos, Mark McKerracher, Sean Chapman, David Page and Oliver Le Sueur, Luis Buddy, Caius Duncombe, Jayden Fowora Knight, Kwame Kandekore, Taylor Lockhart and Malakai Paul.
Where: The Adelphi, Strand, London.
When:From 5th December 2012. Booking until 27th April 2013.
Timings: Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm, plus Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 3pm Pricing: £20 – £67.50
Synopsis: Former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge; what they don’t expect is to fall in love. A romantic thriller, The Bodyguard features a multitude of Whitney Houston’s greatest hits including Queen of the Night, So Emotional, One Moment in Time, Saving All My Love, I’m Your Baby Tonight, Run to You, I Have Nothing, I Wanna Dance With Somebody and one of the greatest hit songs of all time – I Will Always Love You.
From the screenwriter of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (oh yes), THE BODYGUARD was the hit movie of 1992. The Mick Jackson directed and Lawrence Kasdan scripted romantic/ action/ drama, was a film that captured the hearts and minds of a generation. It was one of those films that you could put in the same bracket as earlier films like DIRTY DANCING, GHOST and even PRETTY WOMAN, as a film that girls reached out and embraced with open arms, and being honest, most guys doing the same, or at least not moaning as much as they would do being dragged to see other movies of that time.
It has taken twenty years for the musical version of the movie to reach the stage, and in doing so it joins a long list of film to musical adaptations that echoes all of the way back to the nineties with the revival of GREASE, then SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, which was really a Bee Gees showcase, the aforementioned DIRTY DANCING and GHOST, and of course MARY POPPINS and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST along with the other Disney stage versions of their most popular movies, which have bee transformed into versions for Broadway and the West End. The adaptation of THE BODYGUARD was always going to be tricky. In a time that closely followed the tragic death of the original film’s lead actress, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is purely a cash-in on the death of a fallen legend and not a homage, and alternative version of a great bloody movie. If you were cynically thinking that, you would indeed be wrong as this has been in the planning for six years.
The musical version of the Warner Brothers movie closely follows the plot of the original source material, and indeed very rarely strays from it. The story is simple, but let’s recap anyway. Rachel Marron is the biggest selling, multi-Grammy winning, and now Oscar nominated singer turned actress in showbiz. Marron, single mother to one, is indeed at the top of her game, but as her success grows, so does her following, and after a series of death threats, her management team call in the services of former Secret Service bodyguard Frank Farmer, here played by Lloyd Owen (though famously played by Kevin Costner in the original movie), to oversee the security of her and her family during the lead up to the biggest night of her life, the Academy Awards, where she is up for two major gongs. Of course, there are complications, and after initial hesitations and resistence to the miltary like ways of Farmer, Marron slowly starts falling for the man who is employed to protect her.
If you hadn’t got it by now, I quite liked the original film, and to be honest, I was hesitant on the announcement of the musical version. I couldn’t see how it could play out in a limited environment, and while Houston’s music was clearly a major asset of the film (it had a belting, multi-million selling soundtrack), it really wasn’t the strongest of scripts and handled incorrectly, the musical could face major issues in the ever competetive West End. I needn’t have feared a thing.
From the immediate, Bond inspired opening where barely a soul on stage moves a muscle, we’re strapped in for the ride, ready and willing to go on this journey one more time, and in that first scene Lloyd Owen is instantly given a big tick and a massive seal of approval as a worthy Costner replacement. Right from the off, the story is brought right up to date with THE BODYGUARD title card thrust in our faces as that first tense, stand off ends, placed just like it would in an actual movie. Hi-res, front and center, and I wanted to clap my hands and applaud just for that. We’re only two minutes in. What follows is a clear nod to the talent shows of today, which sat well with the audience, followed by a belting opening number from Broadway legend Heather Headley’s Rachel Marron singing the superb Queen Of The Night. Make no mistake, this is Headley playing Rachel Marron and not Headley playing Whitney Houston playing Rachel Marron. She owns this role. Through numbers like I Have Nothing, I’m Every Woman, All At Once, I’m Your Baby Tonight and the iconic One Moment In Time, Headley hits every note, nails the performance in terms of acting, and more importantly wins over the audience pretty much from the moment she first steps onto the Adelphi’s hallowed stage.
You might have noticed a few tracks of Houston’s appear on the aforementioned list that were not in the original film, and while initially recoiling at the thought of Houston’s name being used to sell the musical as some kind of glorified tribute piece, it instead all plays out as the ultimate tribute to this gifted star. For example, there’s a wonderful redintion of Saving All My Love For You, performed magnificently by Debbie Kurup who plays the supporting role of Nicki, as well as a stunning duet of Run To You with Headley in the first half. Then there’s the truly iconic I WIll Always Love You, which featured throughou, starting with a ‘has to be heard to be believed’ karaoke rendition by Owen, followed by the haunting, tear-jerking performance by Headley. It’s astonishing.
Speaking of Owen, the RADA trained actor, most known for his work on the TV show ‘Monarch of the Glen,’ is also excellent as Frank Farmer, and the producers have ‘done good’ in getting a classically trained actor in this very hard-to-pull-off role; the case being because of Costner’s iconic turn in the original and the fact that the character is such an emotionless, expressionless one. Very hard to play and get right. Owen is superb.
Another worthy mention was the child actor playing the role of Fletcher, particularly during the end ‘party piece,’ which echoed of a young Michael Jackson. Five actors play this role during the initail run, with Malakai Paul assuming the role on the evening that The Hollywood News attended. He was simply superb in a role that I believe is his West End debut.
The set design is nigh on perfect with a snowy log cabin standing in for the river boat scene towards the end of the film, and a total transformation of the auditorium into the Kodak Theatre for the Academy Awards at the end, two clear stand-outs. The lighting is excellent, the sound from the orchestra big, loud and incredibly complimentary to the array of vocals. There are video segments scattered throughout, and although I did struggle to see the action playing out during some sections, notably towards the end, they do not act as a device to move the plot along more than they need to. In other words, the video sections are brief, and seemingly needed to detail and enhance the story, rather than acting as a cop out.
As with all of these modern musicals, make sure you stay around for a post-finale dance-off to the often promised throughout tune of I Wanna Dance With Somebody, clearly one of Houston’s most popular tracks. Even the most hardened theatre critic was dancing along, tapping their feet and clapping their hands as we’re reintroduced to each cast member one more time, and I admit it, wiping away tears of joy at the same time.
I’m really struggling to fault this new musical, so I will keep this positive and not over analyse. If you love the original movie, you’ll get a lot out of this, but be warned, it is a touch darker than the film and I refer to the stalker scenes which almost had echoes of Buffalo Bill from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS; a role majorly enhanced for the musical version. Fans of Houston – well, a no-brainer and, as I stated earlier, this is the ultimate tip of the hat to the lost legend. For everyone else, well, it will have its critics, but as someone who stands proud to say that he enjoys a good musical, and goes with the intention of just having an enjoyable night out at the theatre, THE BODYGUARD delivers and then some.
It surpassed my own expectations, it made me laugh and cry with tears of sadness and enjoyment at the same time, and at certain points turn to the person that accompanied me on the night tomouth the word “Wow.” More than once.
I will go as far as to say that this is probably the best musical I have seen. Certainly for a long, long time.
Highy recommended, and clearly the best night out in London to be had at the moment. Outstanding.
Five big THN stars.
THE BODYGUARD is now open at the Adelphi Theatre and is taking bookings up until the 27th April 2013.