Death threats and divas

bodyguard pening

Queen of the night: Alexandra Burke as Rachel Marron. Pictures: Paul Coltas

The Bodyguard – The Musical

Wolverhampton Grand

****

I DOUBT there has ever been a more explosive start to a show than this.

It starts with a bang, literally, then flares into high-octane life with plumes of flame shooting from stage to ceiling with heat that can be felt in the dress circle – just be grateful you don’t have their gas bill.

And that sets the tone for a play with music or musical play, whatever you decdie, the result is a fast action thriller packed with by-now familiar music from the 1992 hit film.

It was Christmas 2008 when Alexandra Burke beat JLS to win the fifth series of X-Factor and she has gone on to become one of the most successful of the show’s contestants. She took over the role of Rachel Marron in the West End last summer from Wolverhampton’s own Beverley Knight and reprises the role in the touring version.

She can really belt out a song and is a real pop diva on stage, nice as pie off it so I hear, and carries the role with panache as we go through songs such as One Moment in Time, Run to You, I have Nothing, Where do Broken Hearts Go and worldwide hit I will Always Love You

Mind you, she is pushed hard in the singing stakes by Melissa James who plays Rachel’s sister Nicki, and who has a terrific voice herself on numbers such as Saving All My Love and duets with Rachel .on Run to You and I have nothing. You really feel for her character as well, amid all the threats and excitement, she is the tragedy.

And protecting Rachel from the threat of a psycho stalker, played with Mike Denman, who got a good natured boo at the end, is Frank Farmer, quiet, precise, ready to die rachel and frankfor a client and, incidentally, who sings like a tone deaf walrus with laryngitis.

Stuart Reid plays the role with a quiet confidence giving an air of authenticity ready for the big climax and his relationship with Rachel’s son Fletcher, played with bags of talent and enthusiasm by Jhayheim Davis on Press night, was a nicely developed part of the story.

Around the leads we had a strong support cast and ensemble, well choreographed by Karen Bruce, and a terrific eight piece band whose only presence was a glorious big sound and the face of musical director Tom Gearing on the grainy monitor facing the cast.

Rachel, Alexandra Burke, and her bodyguard Frank, played by Stuart Reid

Chief sound engineer Lewis Rose deserves a pat on the back as well for doing such a fine job with Richard Brooker’s sound design. Balance, volume and clarity were spot on.

This is a production packed with technical tricks but these are not see what we can do novelties but really do add to the show from Duncan McLean’s huge full stage video designs to Tim Hatley’s superb set using sliders to close the stage down or open it up and seamless scene changes amid changing colours and shapes all lit beautifully and imaginatively by Mark Henderson.

This is a show with first class technicals and is well directed by Thea Sharrock who provides not only a good pace but some genuine excitement along the way.

The show got a standing ovation and, if you have everyone on their feet, why not finish with an upbeat singalong to I Wanna Dance With Somebody. So they did. This is rock solid, guaranteed entertainment with some great musical numbers in a spectacular show. To 02-05-15 (The show is also at Birmingham Hippodrome 5-29 August).

Roger Clarke

22-04-15

The Bodyguard, Lawrence Kasdan’s first screenplay, has had a long history and the original proposal from 1976 would have seen Steve McQueen as the secret service agent turned bodyguard and Diana Ross as the pop diva Rachel Marron. McQueen refused to have second billing to Ross so end of project.

Then come 1979 it was Ryan O’Neal and Ross, but the pair did not see eye to eye so it was back to square one with a whole host of pop royalty considered from Olivia Newton-John, through Madonna and Debby Harry to Dolly Parton

Finally, in 1992, the film was made with Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston in her first film. Critical reception was lukewarm - it had sex Golden Raspberry Award nominations, including worst picture – but that did not stop the fans making it the second highest grossing film worldwide in 1992 and Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s I will always Love You became a massive worldwide hit, UK No 1 for 10 weeks and selling 1.5m copies in the UK alone.

 

Guarding the rear

****

THERE is an explosive start and an emotional finish to this eagerly awaited musical version of the 1992 film which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.

Front of stage pyrotechnics ensure you can feel the heat in the dress circle and are fully tuned into the action to follow, and when Alexandra Burke sings the huge hit, I Will Always Love You, at the opening night finale, it ensured a remarkable standing ovation accompanied by cheers.

The near sell-out show is a triumph for Alexandra who shot to fame on TV’s The X Factor seven years ago and is rated as one of the most successful winners, and some of her costumes reveal a body worth guarding

She plays pop mega-star Rachel Marron whose life is threatened by an unknown stalker, though strangely the tension of that situation doesn’t really grab you until late in the story, though her superb voice certainly does.

Stuart Reid is impressive as Frank Farmer, the former Secret Service agent hired as her bodyguard who fears a conflict of interest when he falls in love with the boss, and certainly there is a weird scene where he takes her to a night club, incognito, and appears to put her at risk by encouraging her to get up and sing!

At times, however, the danger element seems secondary to the many wonderful songs, superbly delivered by Alexandra and Melissa James, playing the star’s sister Nicki and stunning the audience with the quality of her voice.

And what an opening night performance from young Jhayheim Davis. In the role of the star’s son, he sings and dances with infectious Michael Jackson-style enthusiasm. A star of the future, perhaps.

The sets are excellent, at times opening and closing like a camera shutter, and at the end of the show, directed by Thea Sharrock, the audience - on their feet - join the cast in a joyous I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

The Bodyguard runs to Saturday May 2 and will be at Birmingham Hippodrome from August 5-29. Don’t miss it.

Paul Marston

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