Review: The Bodyguard. Nottingham Theatre Royal

The Bodyguard is a stage musical which began life back in 2012 at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End of London. It was based on the 1992 film of the same name. The film famously featured Whitney Houston in her acting debut, and was one of the top two highest grossing films of that year at the box office. The stage version was confirmed shortly after Houston’s tragic and untimely death. It would seem to me that this show is something of a love letter to Houston from all involved in the project.

The book is by Alexander Dinelaris and is a romance-thriller about a singing superstar by the name of Rachel Marron (Melody Thornton) who is at the top of her career – about to win an Oscar and adored by an army of fans. She is, however, under threat from a deranged stalker (Marios Nicolaides) and so acquires the assistance of a former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard by the name of Frank Farmer (Ayden Callaghan).

The score features songs recorded by Whitney Houston and includes classics such as ‘One Moment in Time’, ‘I’m Every Woman’, and ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. The fact that the songs are so well known meant that this production recently hit the headlines when it arrived in Manchester. Some rowdy theatre goers decided (very unwisely) to attempt to compete with the artists singing on stage and turned the production into a karaoke singalong. The show was halted that night and there was much media coverage concerning poor audience behaviour in theatres across the land. Suffice to say that I hope tonight’s visit is uneventful – I for one do not intend to inflict my vocals on my near neighbours. And for that they should be very grateful!

The opening of the show is nothing short of spectacular. There is an almighty bang (which scares me half to death), and a scene is played out which sets the tone for the rest of the action. We are then transported to a concert where we catch our first sight (and sound) of Rachel Marron. The video design (Duncan McLean) and lighting (Mark Henderson) give the scene a real concert atmosphere and the pyrotechnics at the front of the stage are so spectacular that they nearly take my eyebrows off – and I’m sitting several rows back!

It takes a very brave performer to step into the shoes of Whitney Houston, and in this production that most daunting of tasks falls to former Pussycat Doll Melody Thornton. We needn’t worry. Thornton is a very assured stage performer and has absolutely no trouble at all handling the magnificent ballads. She makes each number her own, investing each track with emotion and energy. Her rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’ absolutely knocks your socks off. Thornton plays the vulnerability and the sassiness of the character extremely well.

The eponymous bodyguard is played by Ayden Callaghan. Callaghan is a very good actor, and his scenes with Thornton are brilliant. He is wonderfully composed in his performance and his stillness means that when Farmer does occasionally become animated it is palpably exciting. His karaoke scene is one of my personal highlights and his version of the track he sings leaves me wondering how good a singer he actually is?! (I suspect he’s actually great!).

Rachel’s frustrated and jealous sister is played by Emily-Mae who is brilliant. She holds her own when singing with Thornton and there is great chemistry between the two characters. There are some very clever moments too, as each sister sings different parts of the same number thus highlighting their plight in falling for the same man. Emily-Mae brings out the frustration and sense of resignation in the character extremely well.

The stalker (Marios Nicolaides) is a threatening presence throughout and adds real menace to the performance. There are two moments when the whole audience jump out of their skin. He receives plenty of boos at the bows – a sure sign that he has played his villainous part to perfection.

A word of praise must be given to the young actor playing Marron’s son Fletcher. This evening, we are treated to two performances – the role is played in the first act by Ryo Appadu and in the second by Manasseh Mapira. I’m not sure whether Ryo became ill or if this is a planned swap. Either way, it is super to see two extremely talented young performers who each enhance the story pathos and bring a good deal of humour.

The ensemble provide texture and help to cultivate a sense of tension rising in a couple of key moments. The choreography by Karen Bruce is exciting and enhances the storytelling. You never get the sense that any moment is just a scene changing distraction.

The musicians under the direction of Sam Hall do a sterling job of supporting the vocals without ever dominating the pieces. The sound design by Richard Brooker is extremely clever – particularly in the way that we are transported between concert arena and home by the nature of the sound.

Wanna dance with somebody? Saving all your love? If so, head to the Theatre Royal in Nottingham before 8th July and catch this fun and beautifully performed show – this is ‘one moment in time’ that should not be missed!

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