The Bodyguard – as in, the 1992 Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner film – is one of those pop culture phenomena so ingrained in the public consciousness that even those of us who have never seen it (hi) have some ideas of what to expect. She’s a pop star. He’s, well, a bodyguard. The iconic image of him lifting her out of a rioting crowd. “I Will Always Love You”.
That might be why the stage adaptation aims to shock the audience out of their complacency immediately: with the sharp crack of an unexpected gunshot, and a sudden fade to black.
Starring 2008 X Factor winner Alexandra Burke as Rachel Marron (an unlikely pop star name if ever there was one), this new UK tour of the 2012 musical certainly doesn’t lack in star quality. And make no mistake: while Frank Farmer (played, on this tour, by Benoît Maréchal, who transfers over from the French production) may be the titular character, the musical belongs to Marron, thanks in part to the addition of another six Whitney Houston hits that didn’t appear in the film. (Natalie gave me a row for referring to it as a “Whitney Houston jukebox musical”, but watching Marron casually write “The Greatest Love of All” on her piano was a bit of a suspension of disbelief too far for me.)
Marron’s team engage the services of Farmer – a renowned bodyguard to political figures who doesn’t do celebrities, or permanent positions, but has a soft spot for weans – after discovering credibly threatening letters from a stalker in her dressing room. Headstrong Marron and by-the-book Farmer clash repeatedly until – after one charming night at a karaoke bar, when Marron persuades the reluctant Farmer to take her out since he won’t let her date anyone else – the two fall in inevitable, steamy love.
Although dramatic projections and clever use of split-stages mean that the identity of Marron’s stalker is obvious from the start, there’s still plenty of tension in this well-staged production – with one particularly tragic plot coming as a complete shock, despite being lifted almost directly from the movie. Phillip Atkinson somehow manages to remain brilliantly menacing as the stalker in the face of a merrily festive Glasgow crowd, booing him like a pantomime villain every time he appears on stage.
But where this production – and Burke as its star – really excels is in the performance scenes, which are particularly impressive given the constraints of a touring production. Her phenomenal voice and years of experience commanding arena pop shows make Burke the production’s MVP, and the gorgeous costumes, incredible choreography, floating stages and flare and fire effects bring a theatre audience convincingly into a pop world – particularly for second act standout “I’m Every Woman”.
Despite her pop star presence though, some of my favourite moments from the show involved Burke at her most vulnerable: her chemistry with Caelan Edie, one of six young actors cast in the role of Marron’s 10-year-old son Fletcher; and her achingly gorgeous duets with Micha Richardson as sister Nicki: “Run to You” and “I Have Nothing”, the pre-interval standout that I’d argue was the best song of the night. Richardson, in a role much expanded from Nicki’s in the film, is absolutely fantastic, with a luscious voice that tugs on the heartstrings and makes you doubt where you stand on the show’s central love story.
Well-cast and incredibly staged – if you can get over the cheese of some projected pre-filmed scenes which I’m sure were intended as cinematic – it would be unfair to suggest that The Bodyguard is something that you sit through for two hours waiting to hear a single, famous note. But Burke’s performance of the show’s final, iconic song is so flawless that I couldn’t stop myself from applauding while my mother gasped beside me.
The Bodyguard is on at Theatre Royal, Glasgow until Saturday, 29th December, before heading out on a UK tour in 2019. Visit the ATG website for more information, and to book. Alexandra Burke plays Rachel Marron at evening performances only, with the exception of evening performances on Thursday 20th, Wednesday 26th and Thursday 27th December.
Theatre Royal will be hosting The Bodyguard-themed karaoke after evening Friday and Saturday performances in the Upper Circle Bar – entry is included in your ticket price.