This musical adaptation of The Bodyguard takes inspiration from the beloved 1992 film, which starred and featured music by the legendary Whitney Houston. Like many jukebox musicals, it’s challenging to weave a story around the songs, but this production certainly makes a valiant effort to do so.
The musical doesn’t stray too far away from the film’s plot: a former Secret Service agent, Frank Farmer (Ayden Callaghan), is hired to protect a famous singer named Rachel Marron (Melody Thornton) from an unknown stalker. Initially, the two clash due to their conflicting personalities. However, as they spend more time together, they develop romantic feelings for each other, leading to a relationship which compromises Frank’s job of keeping Rachel safe. Callaghan and Thornton have undeniable chemistry and the audience took great delight, wooing and cheering, when they finally got together.
The show starts with a bang, quite literally; a booming gunshot making the audience jump out of their seats. Whilst everyone catches their breath back, Thornton launches into ‘The Queen of the Night’, aided by enthusiastic dancers and flame projectors. The choreography is impressively executed, with lively and engaging routines that enhance the performance and keep the audience entertained throughout.
Despite a slightly shaky start that may have been due to nerves, Thornton’s immense talent shines through in her powerful singing. However, her lack of enunciation may pose a challenge for those unfamiliar with Houston’s music as it’s difficult to catch all the lyrics. In addition, Nicki Marron (Emily-Mae), Rachel’s sister, has a beautiful voice, epitomised during her performance of ‘Saving All My Love for You’ and I wish we heard more from her.
Unlike most musicals where different characters have solos or duets, only Rachel, Nicki and the ensemble sing. This results in the other main characters noticeably feeling out of place because they don’t make any musical contributions.
Given the glitz and glamour associated with Whitney Houston’s shows, the audience might have expected dazzling costumes. The red beaded dress that Rachel wears performing her salsa dance is gorgeous. Her other costumes, however, are not as eye-catching. Similarly, the set felt too bare. While the use of curtains to block the stage is clever, the scenery fails to transport the audience to a different world.
However, this is made up for by the innovative stage direction, particularly in the club scene where the stalker attempts to attack Rachel. The staging cleverly incorporates slow-motion moments, which effectively emphasise the suspense of the dangerous situation. Later, when the stalker writes one of his threatening letters, a pre-recorded birds-eye view video of him doing so is projected onto the stage curtain. Although this is a clever idea in principle, the actor was slightly out of sync with the projection. Yet, this will most likely resolve itself throughout the run with practice.
The Bodyguard Musical has comical moments too. Callaghan is hilarious in the karaoke scene, where he purposely sings ‘I Will Always Love You’ in a deadpan, monosyllabic manner. Additionally, the song ‘He Fills Me Up’, created unintended laughter from the audience due to its innuendo-laden lyrics, especially as it followed a particular steamy scene.
The pace of the second act is slow compared to the first, possibly due to the increased use of ballads that do feel shoehorned in. This makes the sudden ending feel even more abrupt. Nonetheless, the addition of a singalong after the bows ensures that the show ends on a high.
The Bodyguard Musical provides a fun, enjoyable evening and excels in its choreography. Thornton and Emily-Mae’s vocals are outstanding, and Callaghan’s comedic timing is impeccable.
Book by: Alexander Dinelaris
Screenplay by: Lawrence Kasdan
Directed by: Thea Sharrock
Choreography by: Karen Bruce
Scenic and costume design by: Tim Hatley
The Bodyguard plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until 11 March, before continuing on a UK tour throughout 2023. Dates and tickets can be found here.