There’s a gripping, sinister narrative bubbling away under the surface of The Bodyguard. Based on the ubiquitous 1992 film starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, the story of a diva, her stalker and her bodyguard is perfect musical fodder, with Houston’s music providing a score that’s popular, diegetic and relevant.
This production, then, is at its best in the quieter moments where the plot is most prominent and the songs actually add narrative depth. As Tim Hatley’s chic and classy set slides in and focuses our attention amidst moody noir lighting from Mark Henderson, there are plenty of touching moments: the bonding between the singer’s son and the bodyguard; a lightly played date scene in a karaoke bar; a family bonding over gospel singing; and a tragic love triangle between the sisters and the bodyguard.
Yet any dramatic tension is undermined by the show’s reliance on camp entertainment. The high octane performances of “Queen of the Night” and “How Will I Know” may present diva Rachel Marron in full popstar mode, but the cheesy dialogue and unnecessary, clichéd posturing between the songs only diminish the emotional impact. The closing moments especially are comical in their sentimentality – the use of projections adds a cinematic touch, but it’s simply too overblown, turning sincerity into melodrama.
You could argue the same for the performances. Few singers can do Whitney justice, but Beverley Knight is certainly one of them. Her vocals are polished, her tone beautiful, her runs and riffs flawless. She’s perhaps too perfect though, lacking a slight sense of vulnerability. It’s a shame too that her dancing and acting hasn’t received quite as much attention as her vocals. She certainly enjoys herself on stage and it’s on-stage in the West End that she’s finally reached her prime.
What Knight lacks in emotional power, though, is made up for by Rachel John as sister Nicki Marron. The increased role adds some welcome friction in what is one of the few ways the show actually improves upon the film. She has a raw edge to her voice that’s full of soul, her delivery of “Saving All My Love” in particular full of subtlety. Bring the two singers together, though, and it’s absolute fire. Ballad “Run To You” is the standout moment of the show: powerful, moving, spine-tingling.
Elsewhere the cast rise above the theatrics. Ben Richards excels as Frank the stoic, titular bodyguard torn between love and employment; Jaden Oshenye is adorably talented as son Fletcher; and Matthew Stathers is a genuinely menacing villain as “The Stalker”.
The show is on the edge of a subtly played, darkly twisted narrative of stardom, obsession and a diva’s sworn protector. Instead, it settles for crowd-pleasing entertainment where the audience whoop and holler as if at a pop concert. That may fit with the subject, but there’s greater potential here. Still, it’s an undeniably entertaining evening that remains so emotional baby. The phenomenal singing alone does the spirit of Whitney proud.
Reviewed by Ed Nightingale
Photo: Alessandro Pinna
THE BODYGUARD plays at the Dominion Theatre until 7 January 2017. Tickets