The show begins with a bang. Quite literally. Then the curtain comes up and Alexandra Burke, playing the lead role of Rachel Marron, dives head first into Queen of the Night – a huge number with all the bells and whistles…and flamethrowers! I was sat so near the front that when the pyrotechnics went off I felt somewhat akin to a Sunday roast. I had to check my moustache at several points through that first number to make sure it hadn’t been singed off.
This felt much more than a usual jukebox musical, based on the film of the same name starring Whitney Houston. It felt much more solid with an actual story to it than an attempted story shoved in between all those well known songs.
The Bodyguard gave Alexandra Burke big shoes to fill by not only taking the role Whitney Houston played, but also by singing some of her most well known songs. She did pretty darn well – her voice and her Whitney mannerisms were on point. The arrangement of the songs were brought down to make sure she wasn’t having to belt for the whole show.We are, however, reminded that Burke is first and foremost a singer before an actress, with the opening referencing her time on the X Factor. She excels at parts where she is meant to be ‘in concert’, though her aiming for an american accent misses the mark by quite a bit and often ends up somewhere in the region of mid-Canada.
She also lacks control of her face while dancing and pulls some faces that were meme-like in quality. Although this we can forgive as singing, dancing and acting all at once can be difficult even for the most accomplished performers, especially in a live show.
During the course of the show we switch from the stage being Marron’s home, a bar dressing room, a cabin, a karaoke bar and then to an actual stage as if we, the audience, are at one of Rachel Marron’s shows. The medley where she is playing in a small club is especially a delight when I realised they had added the song Million Dollar Bill from Whitney’s last album to the mix. I would have expected them to have used only her classics, but the creators really have covered her back catalogue of anthems from start to finish!
The wonderfully talented Rachel John plays the role of Nicki Marron, who pulls off living in the shadow of her sister brilliantly. The idea behind the character is that she has a voice that rivals and even…dare I say…surpasses that of Rachel Marron. Armed with her voice and brilliant comedic timing – when asked what has gotten into Rachel, Nicki wittily responds “Her Bodyguard!” – Rachel John could well have stolen the show.
The song we all waited to hear of course was I Will Always Love You. And we were not disappointed when the time came! It was the point where all things converged perfectly. Alexandra Burke belts her heart out as she is raised above the thick layer of dry ice on a platform, all spotlights focusing on her in sequins and feathers as if she was evoking the spirit of Whitney herself. (Well how else would you summon the spirit of a diva but with sequins and feathers?)
The audience were so clearly moved by it there was a sudden standing ovation!
I think it is safe to say what felt like ladies night at the theatre had gone down a storm….but wait…there’s more. For the grand finale we have a full cast number. The song to go out on, the only song to ever go out on in my opinion, is I Wanna Dance With Somebody. From stalls to up in the Gods they had the whole theatre dancing in their seats, Burke encouraging us all with her “Come on y’all!” and “Sing it Leeds!” and quite clearly having the time of her life up there. Something my companion had told me afterwards that Tony award winner Heather Headly, who had starred in the West End incarnation, didn’t seem to do.
To conclude this review, I would say The Bodyguard is a fantastic production and urge you, if you have the chance, to go and see it. It is guaranteed to be an experience you’ll never forget.
The Bodyguard is on at Leeds Grand Theatre until 21st May, before touring.
Review by Ryan Thompson