By Weronika Walerowska
The Bodyguard is one of those classic films that is generally seen crossing the thin line between cliché and brilliant. As a romantic thriller originally written in the 70s, the storyline revolves around the damsel in distress and her hero, the titular bodyguard. This is quite different from contemporary narratives featuring traditionally strong female protagonists, although calling the character of Rachel Marron weak would be insulting.
The original portrayal by Whitney Houston is arguably what made this motion picture so iconic in the long run. By its release in 1992, the singer has already made a name for herself with two studio albums; with seven of her songs recorded for the production, The Bodyguard continues to be pretty much synonymous with Houston’s name. Arguably, there wasn’t a more suitable household name around to play a strong-willed, highly successful diva.
With all of this in consideration, Alexandra Burke had a lot to live up to in her take on Rachel Marron in the musical rendition. Having joined the musical cast back in 2014, Burke has had the time to grow into the role and it shows. Many might recognise her as the winner of the X-Factor’s fifth series back in 2008. While the majority of her own music mostly incorporates pop sounds, Burke has proved her vocal range could match Whitney’s at the very start, performing “Saving All My Love For You” at her audition for the competition. Eleven years later, she continues to captivate the audience with the vocal and emotional depth within this performance.
What I found most interesting was the incorporation of concert elements into the stage play. Considering the obvious celebrity aspect in the storyline, certain parts felt more like a concert than a theatre performance, but that is definitely not a negative – if anything, it became much more immersive. The opening sequence was an excellent example of this, with “Queen of the Night” introducing the character of Rachel Marron as the ostentatious diva at centre stage. This was definitely aided by the complex lighting setup flashing left and right, blinding the audiences. There was no shortage of fire flares at the front of the stage either, warming up the room even up in the rows way above the stage. The work put into the lighting and set was truly admirable – the screen panels and semi-transparent curtain were used rather creatively to project two-dimensional images into what was happening on the stage. This allowed for a somewhat cinematic feel, although I personally found the end of act one the most riveting, with the curtain of smoke rising as the silhouettes of Frank holding Rachel in his arms cut through the light from behind. It was definitely a captivating way to end a chapter.
Along with the stage design, it is important more than ever to recognise the incredible choreography work done in this production. Many of the numbers such as “I’m Every Woman” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” featured groups of dancers, who just kept me in awe of their overall chemistry and timing. This was only amplified by the incredible precision within the sudden slow-motion scenes at the Mayan, with the heartbeat track resonating within the room as hot white lights lit up the still dancers. Once again, this was something simultaneously cinematic and immersive. Truly, hats off to Tim Hatley and Karen Bruce for pulling off such a mesmerising experience.
Of course, a musical review would not be complete without a comment on the vocal performances. While I’d like to only endlessly praise Benoît Maréchal’s (Frank Farmer) humorous version of “I Will Always Love You”, it is imperative to recognise the strong voices of Alexandra Burke and Micha Richardson, playing the Marron sisters. An excellent example of this is their joint performance of “Run to You”, which was both parts impressive and emotional. Both ladies manage to steal the stage and fill the room with their voices alone and if nothing else, it is worth seeing this play for the incredible maturity and heart put into the vocals.
On the whole, this rendition of the story is a curious one. Being adapted from a screenplay, certain parts felt somewhat compromised due to the changes. The choice to set it within present day might have seemed appropriate considering the rise of social media and the reactions of an average fan nowadays, however I felt that the inclusion of Instagram in this narrative felt out of place. Nonetheless, the overall feel was still there. I especially loved the detached performance of Frank Farmer’s character, reflecting on the aloof nature first portrayed by Kevin Costner. Considering that musical theatre acting can often be exaggerated and loud, Maréchal’s monotone delivery was so out of place and yet so right for the character.
In the end, is The Bodyguard musical really the One Moment in Time? I would definitely argue in its favour. Of course, the fans of Whitney Houston would enjoy it purely because of the well-executed musical score alone, however I think that it is also just a nostalgic experience for those of us who have unironically fallen in love with the diva and her bodyguard. My personal rating? A standing ovation.
The Bodyguard is playing at the Mayflower Theatre now until June 8th.