The Bodyguard is a staple in any musical theatre fan’s catalogue. It takes the incomparable music the late, great Whitney Houston and ties it into a tragic story of a global music star under threat.
The musical is based on the famed early nineties movie and this production could have come straight out of the same time period. Ensemble dancers in black leather waistcoats, check. Tasseled red dress, check. Gold ball gown, check. Bursts of fire at the front of the stage? Check. It all feels a little 'you've seen this before!' right down to the choreography that wouldn't be out of place on a re-run of Top Of The Pops. But I suppose that's what makes it a guaranteed sell-out.
Photo by Paul Coltas
Under Frank Thompson and Jason Capewell’s direction, the revival has made small attempts to modernise the story. There are hints of phone paparazzi and reference to a video clip ‘going viral’ but there's missed opportunity to run with this angle and add urgency to the looming security risk - of which, the blinding disco lights could be considered.
Instead, we’re subjected to sporadic video projections of a young man writing his threats. If pushed further these could have scored highly for drama, but instead felt more chilly than cold. Thankfully, the thrilling scenes in Act 2 – brilliantly acted by Emily-Mae (as Nicki Marron) and Marios Nicolaides (The Stalker) – pack a punch and pick up the momentum.
Tim Hatley’s design feels more drab than glam. Supersized curtains wrap the stage and only accentuate how vast the Curve stage is, and how little set there is to fill it. It takes a lot of imagination to believe we’re in a mansion owned by a pop sensation when the only prop is a grey armchair. Then again, the popstar herself is dressed in faded cardigans throughout.
Luckily, the fantastic cast themselves inject life to the production. As the acclaimed Rachel Marron, Samantha Mbolekwa hits the right level of diva before slowly unveiling the layers of the lonely yet driven star. Her voice is sensational – truly, her “Saving All My Love” is to die for - and elevated by a big band directed by Sam Hall.
As her bodyguard Frank Farmer, Ayden Callaghan is mysteriously charming. Their scene at a karaoke bar is a particular joy, as are the scenes with Rachel’s son Fletcher; played at this performance by Iesa Miller – a certified scene-stealer.
The music is of course the saving grace of The Bodyguard with hit after hit including "I Will Always Love You", "I'm Every Woman" and "How Will I Know". The curtain call reprise of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" serves as a reminder of the epic numbers in the show.
The Bodyguard is a classic. There’s no denying that it has been enjoyed (perhaps too much by certain audience members in Manchester) by realms of theatre-goers and Whitney lovers. Though maybe it's time to revive this tired production of The Bodyguard and really lean into the dark side of celebrity and forbidden love using Whitney’s classics to punctuate the action.
The Bodyguard plays at Curve before continuing on tour