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27th January 2020

Review: The Bodyguard

Theatre Editor Jay Darcy reviews The Bodyguard, starring Alexandra Burke and Ben Lewis, at the Palace Theatre
Review: The Bodyguard
Photo: Paul Coltas.

Starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard is a musical film loved and applauded by all kinds of people: people who like glitzy musicals, people who like camp musicals, people who like classic musicals, and even the weird people who do not (usually) like musicals at all.

The stage adaptation of The Bodyguard makes several changes – the most notable one being the inclusion of Whitney songs that were not featured in the original film, resulting in the show being not just a stage adaptation of the film, but also a Whitney Houston jukebox musical. What more could you want?!

Alexandra Burke (winner of The X Factor 2008, hit singer-songwriter, and daughter of the late lead singer of Soul 2 Soul) takes on the lead role of Rachel Marron, a role she previously played a few years ago. I have always regretted not seeing The Bodyguard but I was determined that I would see it the next time it toured. Frankly, I knew I would feel bitter over not seeing Burke in the role, so you can imagine my happiness and excitement when it was announced that she would be back!

When playing Rachel Marron, you are not only playing an iconic character from a classic film, but you are also reviving, and honouring, a legendary artist: the late and the great Whitney Houston. I laud anyone brave enough to take on such a role, irrespective of their success in it, but Alexandra Burke really did kill it. She made the role her own and was not trying to be Whitney, although her speaking voice did seem to be a little inspired by Whitney’s distinctive vocal register.

Whilst it was clear that her background is not in acting, she evoked a sympathetic, likeable portrayal in Rachel, with a good combination of wit, charm and grace. Her singing voice was, of course, impeccable – Beyoncé agreed to sing with this woman when she was on The X Factor, so everyone knew she’d be incredible. However, her voice is deep and low, so she did not hit manage to hit Whitney’s high notes. But instead of trying to, she chose to showcase her heavy vocals and show us that she is Alexandra Burke playing Rachel Marron, not Alexandra Burke as an imitation of Whitney Houston playing Rachel Marron.

The titular bodyguard, Frank Farmer, was played by veteran theatre actor Ben Lewis. He most recently played Broadway Queen Patti Lupone’s husband in Company in the West End, and is known for playing the titular Phantom (he must have a thing for title characters) in The Phantom of the Opera, and its sequel, Love Never Dies. He also starred in the film version of the latter. I saw him in both Phantom and Company last year, so I was looking forward to seeing him again in The Bodyguard.

Whilst he was fantastic in the role, I was incredibly disappointed to discover that the only time his character sung was when he sung the (original) Dolly Parton version of I Will Always Love You in a karaoke bar and showed Rachel just how bad he is at singing. Even in the finale, when “the Stalker” finally got to sing, Lewis was not given the chance to show off his amazing voice. Surely, it is a little frustrating for him, with audiences leaving the theatre thinking he cannot sing, when he is the Goddamn Phantom of the Opera!

The musical opened with a concert performance, complete with fab costumes, top dancers, and fire! The costumes were definitely a highlight of the musical, whilst the set was good but not exactly memorable. The ensemble were all very talented. Daniil Shmidt in particular stood out, not just because of his great dancing, but also his sheer enthusiasm. It really is great when an ensemble member catches the audience’s attention and is noticed throughout the piece.

The show is also pretty cheesy, and not just nostalgic cheesy, but “omg. cringe.” cheesy, too. Lily and I looked at each other and laughed a few times. In particular, the iconic scene where Frank saves Rachel from an onstage encounter with “the Stalker” ended with the stage being engulfed in an excess of smoke and a silhouette of Frank holding Rachel in his arms (you know the scene!) being projected onto it, with loud, heavy music deafening the theatre. It was supposed to be serious… We laughed!

The moment we were all waiting for, though, was, of course, I Will Always Love You – and to see if Burke could do it justice.

She did! The audience were a little dry for most of the show, with Burke even struggling to get them going during her fantastic rendition of I’m Every Woman. Still, she gave it her all, and was not deterred by their dullness. Fortunately, though, they all clapped passionately after her performance of the film’s theme song.

The show closed with I Wanna Dance with Somebody, and the audience not only got to their feet and clapped, but danced with each other. It was a fabulous end to a fun, feel-good musical.

The Bodyguard finished at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on the 4th of January and is now continuing its UK tour.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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