The Bodyguard, Adelphi Theatre (Review)

Posted on December 6th, 2012

Heather HeadleyIt starts with the gunshot. It had to. Legions of Bodyguard aficionados who know the movie frame by frame will have cried blue murder if it hadn’t. So there it is – the opening scene of the film played out rather stiffly in a theatre that’s only staged musicals for as long as any of us can remember. But before we can take that in we’re blasted by X-Factor like captions hurling out the statistics for superstar songstress Rachel Marron and in a blaze of moving disco lights and pain-threshold sound levels there she is rising from the stage like some kind of golden sphinx. And as she – a.k.a Heather Headley – heads down the obligatory catwalk into our midst with the first Whitney of the evening it is already all too clear that in ‘The Bodyguard – the musical’ the melodrama is going to spoil the cabaret.

Actually The Bodyguard isn’t a musical at all. It’s a pretty faithful dramatisation of the movie with 15 Whitney Houston hits either played out as contextualised production numbers or used as internal monologues for Headley’s Rachel and her overshadowed (though not in this show) sister Nicki, played with feisty and challenging relish by Debbie Kurup. They are quite smartly integrated, it’s true, but to get to them we have to wade through an oh, so predictable thriller whose only twist is that the Bodyguard, Frank Farmer (Lloyd Owen), falls in love with his client. And the reality is that however well the dialogue scenes are played and however truthfully directed (in so much as she can) by Thea Sharrock, what we are seeing here are two alien genres, the movie thriller and the compilation musical, uncomfortably co-existing. You just can’t transfer that movie naturalism to the musical theatre stage however earnestly you try. The grandstanding stylisation of the evening – and that’s the exciting part of this show – will always overwhelm it.

But, hey, they have a decent crack at making the impossible viable and this is high-end product with expensive production values. Tim Hatley’s sliding panels and flowing chiffon drapes achieve a kind of cinematic grace dissolving from one scene to the next or opening or closing around the action to achieving “close-ups” or “wide shots”. There are even overhead “shots” of Rachel’s stalker (Mark Letheren) working at his poison pen letters, some judicious video, of course, and a conspicuously solid looking, snow covered, cabin in the woods. There was no getting away from that being the real deal. Or indeed the moment when Farmer rescues Rachel from that threatening underground club (I almost forgot the inevitable “slow-mo”) and whisks her off her feet into that pose. A little shiver down the spine at that point.

From a dramatic point of view the smartest scene in the show – and one they’ve added a new twist to – is the scene of Farmer’s first “date” with Rachel in a down at heal bar on karaoke night. In a game of truth or dare Farmer ends up having to sing – and the number he sings (or tries to) is… as if I would give that away. But then Rachel incognito sings one of her own – “I Have Nothing” – and in a way that is only possible in the theatre the song is opened out to clinch the moment we’ve seen coming and draw Rachel’s sister into the fateful equation.

And Heather Headley had better watch out because Debbie Kurup is a scene stealer with one hell of a vocally delivery. Headley herself is pretty sensational where it counts (i.e. the big sell moments in the big sell numbers) and her scenes with Lloyd Owen’s laconic Frank have a kind of filmic intimacy if you can just suspend disbelief in what this show is trying to do here. That isn’t easy. But fans of the movie will be coming for the soundtrack, for the Whitney songs, and hopefully they’ll buy Headley’s take on them. The dynamite reprise of the big one – “I Will Always Love You” – is wonderfully over the top and quite literally elevates the star of the show to goddess status. Well, that what you came for, didn’t you?

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Posted in Musical Theatre, Reviews
7 comments on “The Bodyguard, Adelphi Theatre (Review)
  1. russell says:

    Don’t Go Unless heather is playing as rachel marron ! Major Dissapointment. If Your A Heather Fan They stuck in an understudy’s understudy from the musical esemble . Costumes didn’t fit ,but above all the awful! vocal scraeming almost unbearable and totaly out of tune !!!,Janet Kumar was her name not even listed as an undertsudy never heard of her ever. check an make shore heather is on !!! i was told now its been previewed for first few weeks she only does a few shows and one weekend show ! dissapointing ! false advertising in a way its like there filling seats and giving customers false expectations !!!

  2. Edward says:

    Disgraceful, isn’t it, Russell. I shall investigate.

  3. Karen says:

    Agree with Russell. Equally disappointed. Was a big Heather fan. Took a group of clients to see her on a day (24/1) the website suggested she would be there. Understudy. No explanation. Expensive and very disappointing. A tweet to Heather has yielded no joy!

  4. Edward says:

    Hi Karen. Just so’s you know (and you, too, Russell) I plan to write something about this – probably in the next couple of days. I have very strong feelings about stars not fulfilling the 8 shows commitment (this is a bad habit that didn’t exist in the glory days of Broadway and the West End). I believe it started when Elaine Paige decided that “Evita” was too heavy a role to repeat on matinee day once all the euphoria had died down. What about 20 year old Julie Andrews doing eight “My Fair Lady” performances a week for years on Broadway and in the West End? Patti LuPone didn’t put an “alternate” on for matinees for “Evita” on Broadway or indeed for the hugely taxing “Gypsy” just recently. Producers should insist that, barring illness, the star should be on. It’s an insult to high-paying audiences to be treated in this way.

  5. keith emmett says:

    Glad someone’s doing something about it !!!, i’m still waiitng on a reply from my 4 page letter of complaint !!! and i will do a trip advisor soon, i too had the same situation i’m a really big heather fan . Filling seat’s under false pretences … then boom the awful mess that is janet kumar. i think if ur not a regular theatre goer and you don’t follow the actors and actresses you can be easily fooled . joe blogs public are easily pleased . but this show is pulling in people under heathers name . the enchanting video trailer of her hitting all them high Octive signature notes. then u get an understudy of understudy esemble with not replacement notice in advance . janet kumar acted more like tina turner – voice not suited or in tune !!! costuming needs a rethink too. think the’ve thrown set and costume’s together. were in 2013 they should have an automated txt service saying who is performing etc on evening by certain time . i took friends who were visiting from italy. i know she was poorly but she was scheduled 12 days off in month of january or more according to the website and only has evening shows to perform. she had flew 2 weeks running up to christmas one hell of a cold to last all way up to 11th january i believe. her last performances if she even does half of them is apparently august 10th 2013 before the show comes to and end as i think its been extended. Oh well no stamina of Julie andrews like u said . A real star goes the distance !!!

  6. keith emmett says:

    A friend of mine who went to see the show said she saw understudy Gloria Onitri and she was ok but more like Aretha Franklin, but obviously thought she would also be seeing Heather Headley ?! she put a review on the bodyguard facebook page and they removed it . i think there catching on as there’s lots of complaints . i don’t even think heather is doing any shows but weekends, maybe even none at all anymore ! this is definately some conspiracy going on . we need someone to dig deeper and get some paper editorial. people are becoming more aware of what there doing !? theve just added 3rd understudy Shanay Holmes ! thats 3 now !
    Gloria Onitri
    Janet kumar
    Shanay Holmes ….
    I don’t think we’ll get anywere ! 🙁

  7. Russell says:

    I’m still waiting on a reply letter from my email i sent on the 8th january 2013.

    the date is now the 29th january. they asked for my home address to send a formal letter. its the producers p.a dealing with my complaint.

    can’t see much light at the end of the tunnel tbh .



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