Alexandra Burke puts in a performance to make Whitney proud, at Bristol Hippodrome until 6 April
Be warned, those with dicky tickers, The Bodyguard – the stage adaptation of the hit Whitney Houston film currently running at the Hippodrome and starring Alexandra Burke as its leading lady – gets off to something of a banging start. An almighty gun shot ringing out across the auditorium heralds dynamic opening number Queen of the Night, which gives its audience no option but to dive right in with the cast, and comes complete with X Factor-style stage flames as the warm-up.
The story – of fictional superstar, Rachel Marron, under threat from a sinister stalker and consequently fixed up with former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer – is swiftly set up and moved along apace. There’s the initial power struggle between Rachel and her new protector – before it turns to affection – running alongside hushed chats of music-label honchos concerned over the growing threat, as well as a love-triangle thread introduced when Rachel’s long-overshadowed sister Nikki also begins to fall in love with Frank.
Alexandra Burke’s performance as Rachel Marron – originally played, of course, by Whitney Houston in Oscar-nominated screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 film – is accomplished. Imbuing her character with plenty of sass, she has Whitney’s tone of speaking voice and vocal mannerisms down to a tee. She’s a natural fit for the role and seems very much at ease in it despite the challenging nature of its songs, with seemingly off-the-cuff script embellishments offering extra verisimilitude.
The show’s super-buff stalker character – additional digital projections of whom help convey his dangerous obsession with Rachel and, personally, remind us slightly of Eminem’s Stan – is often unexplainedly shirtless and elicits audible excitement from the auditorium (even when he’s pointing his gun at us) whether or not this is the intention.
There’s humour, notably from the dashing Frank during his karaoke rendition of I Will Always Love You… A concert scene, featuring a medley of party hits sung with prowess by Burke, is slickly executed to illustrate the narrative’s dramatic turn, showing the stalker making his way through the crowd via a series of slow-motion tableaux before Frank comes to Rachel’s rescue. The silhouette of him carrying her, cleverly enlarged against a wall of smoke and lights, maximises the impact of the development.
Stand-out songs include emotive ballad I Have Nothing which closes the first act; I’m Every Woman and, naturally, showstopping classic I Will Always Love You. As for sound, which, if ever lacklustre, can make even a most engaging performance underwhelming, is, happily, amped right up and clear as a bell – it’s a nice touch that some of Whitney’s other hits have been added into the mix, such as One Moment In Time, Saving All My Love, Greatest Love Of All and I Wanna Dance With Somebody.
Choreography from the superb supporting cast, plus lighting and set design, are all impressive, imaginative and of a high standard throughout. Rachel’s mansion is convincing as a star pad; as is the cabin to which she’s swept away by Frank for her own safety, and where there’s a tender moment that sees Jesus Loves Me beautifully sung acapella by Rachel, her all-singing, all-dancing son Fletcher (played by the adorably talented Ethan Marsh) and Nikki, before the show reaches its tense climax, set at the Academy Awards…
A must-see for Whitney fans but a high-calibre show for any theatre lover to enjoy. Catch it at Bristol Hippodrome until 6 April.