Alexandra Burke replaces Beverley Knight as Rachel Marron from May 31.
For anyone who grew up in the late Eighties, Whitney Houston was part of the decade’s hedonistic soundscape – the dynamic rhythms of her songs and that extraordinary undulating voice an instant cue to go wild on the dance floor. With a clutch of number ones to her name she was the obvious candidate for a jukebox musical – so how fortunate it was that the producers already had the film of ‘The Bodyguard’ to base it on. Or was it?
Right from the moment this unashamedly synthetic love story begins, you become aware of the musical as machine – all lights, vibrations, and jangling clichés. Soul singer Beverley Knight has replaced Heather Headley in the role of Rachel Marron, and the pressure is very much on her to prove that the music is going to carry the show.
She brings considerable star power with her – she has performed with Prince and Stevie Wonder among others – but she’s notably far more comfortable in the upper registers of her voice than the lower. Her acting also only seems to operate in two gears – petulant and precocious. Is this going to be enough?
Thankfully for her – and the audience – it is. No scientific experiment has been performed to see how many Whitney Houston numbers any individual can hear without feeling their hips and possibly even their heart-rate shifting, but for this critic it was about five.
This despite the woeful two dimensionality of the story – stalker threatens rock star, bodyguard is hired to protect her, they fall in love – a sort of modern variant on Tarzan and Jane. It’s also in spite of Tristan Gemmill’s performance as the bodyguard, Frank Farmer, which is so plastic it makes Barbie’s Ken look like Laurence Olivier.
And yet – to a degree – bodyguards are meant to be plastic. And there are glimmers throughout Thea Sharrock’s technically highly proficient production that we are going to get what everyone has come for, which is some of the Houston magic. We hear an element of it in the performance of Debbie Kurup – who plays the star’s put-upon sister Nicki – and whose voice swoops effortlessly from velvety low notes to diamond brilliance. And as the action progresses we hear it from Knight, who really starts to relax by the time she performs ‘I’m Every Woman’.
When we get to the closing number ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ the entire audience is rocking out. Terrible script, negligible performances, but great atmosphere – this one will run and run.
By Rachel Halliburton