The Bodyguard Review
The Bodyguard opens with a bang and continues with explosion after explosion of Whitney Houston hits. It seems to represent an apparent shift in direction in musicals in that Alexander Dinelaris’s adaptation of Lawrence Kasdan’s original screenplay is surprisingly tender and humorous, almost as a straight play would be. Thea Sharrock’s direction gives it a presence that transcends to the genres of straight and musical theatre while existing fully in each and it is acted in this way.
From the sweet yearning and true-to-the-note singing of Malaki Paul, who plays Fletcher through to Gloria Onitiri who played Rachel Marron at the performance we saw, to Lloyd Owen as a stony Frank Farmer and the interesting Debbie Kurup as Nicki Marron, the drama is as real as the music.
David Page as the choreographer Rory also stands out as someone who, true to the choreographer’s role, does not overshadow his star but shows her to her best advantage, moving us beyond words and in time with the music.
Contemporary plays and musicals are referenced. There is a revolving house, complete with snow on the eaves, evoking The Young Vic’s A Doll’s House with its revolving stage. There is a hint of Spamalot, with a sudden entry of comic campness at the Academy Awards. But Tim Hatley’s breathtaking set design is all his own, a fantastic use of light, film, perspective and technical scenery creating a post-modern backdrop to the evocative hits that we all know so well and, on occasion, are drawn to sing along to.
Onitiri at one point emerges in front of the audience like a small doll, appearing through a larger-than-life filmic image of Rachel Marron, the power of image contrasting with the smallness of reality, the dangers of celebrity lost in the glamour of the lifestyle. Mark Letheren is ashen-faced, cadaverous, sinister, stalking Marron through the strobe lighting of the club scene that exposes the sordid addictive under-belly of the celebrity lifestyle yet still makes clear how compelling and attractive it is to observers and participants through the literal and metaphorical contrasts of light and dark.
The dancing that opens and closes the show is superb and one of my few regrets was that we did not see more of this. But more dancing might have detracted from the message of this musical, teaching us the reality of obsession, the price of fame set against its massive rewards of which the life of Whitney herself is a constant tragic reminder in the backs of the minds of the audience. It really is a question of life and death. Nothing, not even the real and present threat to the life of the star, can stop the show from going on.
The karaoke scene is brilliant and one of the most comical. At several times during the show we, the audience, become actors in the play in that we play the audience at a concert, or the drinkers at a karaoke bar. Were we expected to sing along during this when the words came up in front of us? Many of us did anyway, humming quietly throughout the show, because we don’t really need the words in front of us to sing Whitney’s songs, and by the end we were still singing but no longer under our breath, and on our feet, dancing too. The star’s many costume changes were a show in themselves. The sparkly rhinestone covered short red dress in particular was to die for. I wanted that dress! And of course people have died, still do die, for what that seductive sparkle represents. For that one moment in time, the song Onitiri sang most spectacularly, I wanted it all. We all want Whitney back, but even without her, to hear her music live again in this theatre is powerful and emotive.
I’ll definitely be going back, to hear not just Heather Headley but another of the boys playing Marron’s son, Fletcher. Caius Duncombe is among the first of the young students at Sylvia Young Theatre School to be supported by the new Amy Winehouse scholarships. I think of her, as well as Whitney, when I hear these little boys pack their vocal punch with emotionally-charged harmonies on the huge Adelphi stage. These young things make one look forward to the musical theatre and popular music world of the future with such great hope, while of course not forgetting to mourn the stars of the past who made it, yet didn’t.
If you liked the movie, you will love this show. And if you didn’t like the movie there is a good chance you will at least like the show because, stripped of celluloid, Rachel’s life is more real, more earthed and made even more true by the glory of the singing and the sadness of her alter-ego’s death, the tragedy that lies between and somehow brings this show to new life, before our eyes.
Review by Ruth Gledhill who you can follow on:
6th December 2012