I grew up with Whitney. Not literally, obvs. But I remember seven year old me belting out “Saving All My Love For You” as if my heart depended on it. And then fifteen year old me poring over a VHS (ask your parents kids) of The Bodyguard film until I could recite every line. I even saw her in concert at Birmingham’s NEC. (As an aside, she was terrible. Couldn’t hit a note. Totally overshadowed by her backing singers). So I was understandably “So Emotional” about this invite to the Press Night of The Bodyguard UK Tour at the Alexandra Birmingham.
The Bodyguard (The Musical) loosely follows the story of the 1992 film, but with added Whitney. Alexandra Burke takes the lead role of pop sensation Rachel Marron and belts out epic number after epic number throughout the show. The storyline is interjected with a range of Whitney hits, from the upbeat How Will I Know to the heart-wrenching I Have Nothing to Houston’s final hit Million Dollar Bill. The original film had a hugely successful soundtrack, and therefore there are big expectations landing on the shoulders of Burke.
The show starts – quite literally – with a bang. We’re plunged into a glitzy pop concert, replete with pyrotechnics and shirtless men. Cue whoops from the largely female audience. After a slight technical hitch with a pyrotechnic, the story’s back on track.
After a spate of threats by a stalker (Phil Atkinson), former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (Ben Lewis) is called in by Marron’s management. Inevitably the strong-willed diva clashes with her new bodyguard before establishing a closer relationship.
It’s Burke’s second stint playing Rachel Marron, and she looks and sounds completely at home in the role. I’ve joked before about musicals starring reality show cast-offs, but as a former X-Factor winner, Alexandra Burke is the real deal. She portrays charisma and talent, with more than a pinch of the diva about her. Vocally, I felt she didn’t give it her all times, as if she was holding something back. However she carries the show throughout; her version of I Will Always Love You is much anticipated, and she doesn’t disappoint.
There’s a believable chemistry between Burke and Lewis, from the initial arguments to the simmering passion. It’s inevitable that they will kiss. Cue more audience whoops. The hugely talented Emmy Willow plays Rachel’s sister Nicki, who rivals Burke with her ability to perform the big emotional numbers. Young Riotafari Gardner as Rachel’s son Fletcher was adorable, and certainly not fazed by performing in front of an audience. The rest of the cast don’t disappoint either, with high energy levels and strong choreography from Karen Bruce.
There’s a dozen costume changes or more, from gladiator to 90s dancewear. Tim Hatley’s sliding-door set is quite simple but ever-changing, and key moments of the plot are enhanced by the use of projections. There’s even a cheesy montage. The scene where Marron’s stalker appears at a nightclub is beautifully crafted with strobe lights and a slow-motion effect.
But ultimately, the show is all about the music. Musical Director Michael Riley delivers strong orchestration to a varied range of songs. Powerful ballads, soulful duets, upbeat pop medleys – and bad karaoke. It celebrates Whitney Houston’s amazing back catalogue of memorable songs. And the final curtain call brought everyone in the auditorium to their feet. Even the cast looked like they were having a ball.
Whitney Houston’s legacy lives on, and none more so through The Bodyguard (The Musical)
The Bodyguard (The Musical) runs at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 1st February 2020. Don’t miss your chance to catch this One Moment In Time – you can buy tickets here.