The musical is based upon the film starring Whitney herself as Rachel Marron and Kevin Costner as the bodyguard, Frank Farmer, hired to protect her. Throw in a jealous sister next to an eerie and creepy stalker and you have a compelling watch. Throw in Houston's back-catalogue of powerhouse classics and it is truly a compelling watch, especially for someone who has not seen the film in its entirety.
I had been looking forward to seeing Heather Headley in the lead role after hearing amazing things about her performance, and also after seeing her promotional material concerning The Bodyguard, such as her studio snippets, The Royal Variety Performance and West End Live. Unfortunately, Heather had been battling laryngitis and had not been in the show for two weeks before this particular performance. Sadly, her run in the show has been bereft with attendance issues which is a shame, if only because it has deprived more people of being unable to hear her sing live. I will do my best to catch her somewhere, somehow in the future.
I am not one to complain about seeing an alternate or understudy, however. Along these lines, I had also heard fantastic things about Heather's alternate. Step forward Ms Gloria Onitiri who gave an incredibly powerful and yet often chilling performance as Rachel Marron. Her voice was a joy to behold and it was comfortably one of the most powerful female vocals I have ever heard on the West End. I had goosebumps throughout 'I Have Nothing' at the end of act 1 and 'I Will Always Love You' at the climax of the show, which she rendered beautifully. Her acting was, on the whole, convincing and I truly felt her confusion and anger in act 1 as well as her sorrow and fear during act 2.
My one small complaint, and this is probably entirely out of her control, was that I could not hear her vocals properly during the opening number 'Queen of the Night', nor . The start of The Bodyguard is extremely loud and I do not think the sound mix was quite right. Nevertheless, it did not detract from the overall performance which was in a word, stunning. Congratulations to Gloria. It should be noted that she takes over the role for four weeks from 12th August-7th September before the main cast change - catch her if you can!
Lloyd Owen is the bodyguard himself, Frank Farmer. He gave a performance full of charm, charisma and sophistication and proved he was perfectly cast in the role. His version of I Will Always Love You was surprisingly(!) good and he was an excellent foil for his leading lady. Particularly touching were his scenes with Fletcher, Rachel Marron's son; there were even a couple of tear-inducing moments in act 2 that could touch the most stone-hearted. Think 'Fletch' and the ID badge! More than anything, he was a very convincing 'Action Man' and hero of the hour. It is a compliment to him that he would not be out of place in any security service either!
Rachel's sister Nicki is played by Debbie Kurup. I thought she started the show in far better vocal form than Gloria and quite simply, she too has a stunning voice that put a fantastic new slant on some of Whitney's slower numbers, such as Saving All My Love, Run To You and Jesus Loves Me. I really felt her tragedy throughout the story and until her unfortunate death - indeed I sided with her rather than Rachel, as the forgotten girl with a heart of gold and a voice sadly overshadowed by her sister. I left amazed by her showing but also regretful that I had not had the chance to listen to more of her voice. Nonetheless, she completes the trio of lead roles with aplomb and I will keep an eye out for her name in the future.
The role of Rachel's son, Fletcher, is rotated between four boys who all complete two performances per week. The chemistry between all three principals and our Fletcher, played by Joshua-James Thomas, was so memorable and so touching that it was a credit to him with such young shoulders. He could sing too, and got his moment to shine in the finale: well done to him.
Mark Letheren did a fantastic job as The Stalker. He was as menacing as he was creepy and his obsession was scarily convicing. His relationships with both Nicki and Fletcher were brilliantly kaniving and his reveal in act 2 had the audience gasping in disbelief. Most of the clever staging and use of screens revolved around this character and the creative and production teams should be proud of the innovative ways in which the character is used. A great feature of the show was having the actors run out into the stalls and dress circle at the climax when The Stalker finally reveals himself to all in public; adding to the overall power and spectacle that is Mark's character.
Bill Devaney was played by understudy Robert Jezek, who quickly becomes one of Frank's biggest supporters in the quest to protect Rachel. It was easy to understand his compassion and care for the singer and in a fairly limited role, he did well.
Nicolas Colicos certainly looks the part as Tony, the beefy but flawed and unaware head of Rachel Marron's security team. He has a couple of great lines and his interaction, or rivalry, with the bodyguard helps make a couple of the more comical scenes.
Mark McKerracher (Herb Farmer), Sean Champan (Sy Spector), Rory (understudy Richard Murphy) and Oliver Le Sueur (Ray Court) all provide excellent back-up to the principal team as various members of Rachel's staff and backstage production teams. Richard Murphy in particular proved he is a fantastic dancer as Rachel's choreographer and Oliver Le Sueur stands out as another of the security team.
The rest of the ensemble roles, about eight or so, are largely restricted to the bigger dance numbers. I did not feel their work was always tight enough and a couple of members seemed rather lackadaisical and half-hearted at times. Yes they have eight shows per week to do but they have enough rest time in each show - plus this was only the third of the week - for this not to be an excuse. It was the only slightly disappointing area in an otherwise fantastic spectacle. The finale number, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, redeemed them slightly. As one of the most iconic 80s tracks, the band and lead cast did it complete justice. It was a fantastic way to end the show and the vast majority of the theatre were all on their feet to show their appreciation. It left a great after-taste after the slightly bitter and sad ending to the show.
The Bodyguard certainly does Whitney Houston proud, even though it was in development long before her death and never intended as a tribute. However, things change with the times and one of the best singers of our lifetime has her own jukebox tribute to ensure fans will enjoy her music long after she has gone. It was a pleasure to bear witness to the show and it is one that surely has good legs left in it yet.
At this performance, the cast was:
Gloria Onitiri (Rachel Marron), Lloyd Owen (Frank Farmer), Debbie Kurup (Nicki Marron), Mark Letheren (The Stalker), Nicolas Colicos (Tony), Sean Chapman (Sy Spector), Robert Jezek (Bill Devaney), Mark McKerracher (Herb Farmer), Oliver Le Sueur (Ray Court), Richard Murphy (Rory), Joshua-James Thomas (Fletcher), Jordan Darrell, Shanay Holmes, Holly James, Gil Kolirin, Melissa Keyes, Nicholas Maude, Ashley-Jordon Packer, Dharmesh Patel, Lucinda Shaw, Paul Smethurst and James Wooldridge.
Also in the cast are Heather Headley, Ray Shell, David Page, Gareth Andrews, Nigel Barber, Yasmin Harrison, Janet Kumah and Charlotte Watts.