Bodyguard: Review Roundup

Heather Headley

The new West End musical The Bodyguard, based on Lawrence Kasdan’s 1992 film (whose Grammy-winning soundtrack featured Whitney Houston’s iconic recording of “I Will Always Love You”), has opened at London’s Adelphi Theatre to rave reviews for leading lady Heather Headley but poor reviews for the show itself. The creative team includes Alex Dinelaris (book), Thea Sharrock (direction), Tim Hatley (sets, costumes), Arthur Pita (choreography), Richard Beadle (musical direction), Chris Egan (orchestrations), Mark Henderson (lights), Richard Brooker (sound), and Duncan McLean (video). The cast includes Heather Headley (Rachel Marron), Lloyd Owen (Frank Farmer), Debbie Kurup (Nicki Marron), Mark Letheren (Stalker), Ray Shell (Bill Devaney), Nicolas Colicos (Tony), Mark McKerracher (Herb Farmer), Sean Chapman (Sy Spector), David Page (Rory), and Oliver Le Sueur (Ray Court).

Michael Billington (Guardian): Although the show is staged with enormous technical efficiency, it is one more example of the necrophiliac musical morbidly attracted to a cinematic corpse. … Though the songs are now foregrounded, the central paradox of the story remains unresolved. The more Rachel and Frank fall in love, the more of an incompetent loon he seems. … A thriller doesn’t become any more thrilling, however, by the need to interpolate pre-existing songs. … At the curtain call, when the company lets its collective hair down and encourages the audience to clap and sing along. This at last felt like a piece of live theatre rather than a sterile attempt to recapture the feel of a not very good romantic thriller and turn the West End into a distant suburb of Hollywood.

Michael Coveney (What’s On Stage): Heather Headley is a soul sister knockout as Rachel Marron. … She’s absolutely tremendous when she sings, combining the snap and passion of Whitney with the eccentric stomping of Grace Jones, but the book of Alexander Dinelaris, based on the screenplay of Lawrence Kasdan, doesn’t help her express much interior life. Film fans will love the plethora of numbers. … The Bodyguard virgins, however, and musical theatre fanciers, may be mystified. … But all is forgiven as Headley descends on us once more, pushing out onto the little thrust stage and whipping the audience into a frenzy. For like so many of these musicals, it’s at its most enjoyable as an expensively costumed concert.

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard): Heather Headley is mesmerising. … The chemistry between the leads doesn’t smoulder. Nor are Frank’s insights into the art of protection much better than laughable. But Debbie Kurup is passionately soulful as Rachel’s envious sister. … The story is thin and the characterisation sketchy. The script has a few racy moments yet often uses a clunky shorthand that makes it impossible for the actors not to sound hollow. The way certain songs are worked into the narrative is undeniably neat … but the glitzy, soaring numbers so handsomely performed by Headley don’t advance the action, and this gives the production a stop-start feel. … What’s missing is a sense of danger. That, and true emotional depth.

Quentin Letts (Daily Mail): It’s loud, it’s soupy, it is as predictable as the tides – yet it makes for a pumpy, undemanding evening. … Director Thea Sharrock gives us so many scene changes, it’s like being on a train. That incessant movement may take the audience’s mind off some clunky story-telling. One belting ballad quickly yields to another, all sung at top whack. There is just about enough plot to provide the bones for the drama. If my remarks sound grudging for a four-star show, that is perhaps because the thing is so shamelessly a Hollywood rip-off. It even uses film clips projected on enormous screens. … This emotive show may not be  subtle or cerebral but it is a modern romantic classic and may put you in the mood for some Yuletide lovin’.

Charles Spencer (Telegraph): The Bodyguard is dross with a gloss, and proof that if you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, you can sometimes come surprisingly close. … Director Thea Sharrock has done a remarkable job … far more enjoyable than the movie. And there is a thrilling star performance from [Heather Headley]. … But that is largely where the good news ends. Though Alexander Dinelaris has tweaked Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay, the show remains trite and sentimental, while Lloyd Owen proves sourly humourless and gruff as the bodyguard. … By no stretch of the imagination is The Bodyguard a great musical … but with all the big Whitney Houston hits superbly delivered by Headley and a cracking pit band, I suspect it is destined for a long and lucrative run.

Paul Taylor (Independent): The Bodyguard manages to fall simultaneously into two pretty suspect categories – the screen-to-stage adaptation and the jukebox musical. But the show is an altogether more pleasurable experience than that doubly dubious distinction might make it sound. … The show has all kinds of flaws as music drama (there’s even less of a sense than in the movie of danger as an erotic turn-on). It is performed, though, with such an infectious zest and wholehearted commitment that the evening is tremendously enjoyable, and not just during the tacked-on, obvious but elating finale when Headley gets the whole joint jumping to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” You go in humming the tunes; you come out whooping them.

Matt Wolf (Arts Desk): For some, the opportunity to hear the Houston songbook re-packaged will be enough, and the show to some extent renders critical discourse as irrelevant.  … But all the vocal pyrotechnics and technical know-how on offer can’t put right the vapidity at the core of a plot that could have been written on the back of an interval drinks order. … The shifts in a story of mutual distrust turned to togetherness and lust that go completely undramatised in Alexander Dinelaris’s book. … Scarcely have lines been uttered on the order of “Do you think he’s out there?” before Frank and Rachel are making love, not war. … All it takes is one “C’mere!” delivered sotto voce by Frank, and Rachel falls into his protective arms.

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