Until Saturday you can see former leading member of ‘The Pussycat Dolls’, Melody Thornton, at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. The pop superstar is taking on the role made famous by Whitney Houston in the classic 1992 Hollywood blockbuster ‘The Bodyguard’. The original story has been adapted for the stage and updated for the modern age. Plenty of additional Whitney Houston standards have been added, turning the show into a jukebox musical of the late singer’s greatest hits. If you love the music of Whitney Houston, and the charming romance of ‘The Bodyguard’ is close to your heart, then you will love this show.
There are some divergences from the plot of the original movie which helps to make ‘The Bodyguard – The Musical’ more of a stage experience, but the main thrusts of the story remain the same. Rachel Marron (Melody Thornton) is a hugely successful singer who is also embarking on an acting career and has received her first Academy Award nomination. When her management team is spooked by an obsessive stalker (Mario Nicolaides) who leaves a sinister note in her dressing room, they employ the services of former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (Ayden Callaghan) to act as her bodyguard. At first, Rachel objects to the imposition of his presence in her life. But then her young son Fletcher takes a shine to Frank, and a friendship develops between the two adults. Frank’s ally in the family is Rachel’s sister Nicki (Emily-Mae), a good but unrecognised singer who lives vicariously through her sister’s success. However, it soon becomes apparent that both women have developed feelings for Frank. Though he wants to avoid romance and focus on finding the stalker and keeping the whole family safe, chinks appear in his defensive armour as love blossoms.
From the opening slickly-choreographed, sexy and and dazzling sequence in which Melody Thornton as Rachel belts out ‘Queen of the Night’, audiences know they’re in for a full-blooded evening of musical theatre entertainment. The set design and lighting work in harmony with costumes, live music and fantastic renditions of popular songs by a top notch musical performer. All of these elements and the clever and innovative use of projections combine to dish up a show that is a feast for all of the senses. Melody Thornton is excellent in the lead role, and she ably brings to life the songs of Whitney Houston that are a challenge for any performer, no matter their calibre. We especially relished hearing Thornton singing ‘I Have Nothing’, which is a key moment in the show that she executed to perfection. And of course the eventual and inevitable inclusion of ‘I Will Always Love You’ later had the whole house enraptured.
Thornton enjoys great chemistry with Ayden Callaghan who takes on the role of Frank. He is especially good at drawing out Frank’s inner vulnerability and he makes the character all the more appealing for it. His lightness of touch is ideal for bringing out some welcome moments of humour and levity. Emily-Mae is also terrific and sympathetic as Rachel’s overshadowed sister Nicki. Her contribution to songs such as ‘Saving All My Love for You’ and ‘Run to You’ prove what a talented singer and rounded performer she is. Other members of the cast tend to give lively and often large and stylised performances that can take a few scenes to tune in to.
The cheesiness of the dialogue will not be to everybody’s taste, and there are some moments that are truly of the strongest soft French cheese variety. With the audience invested in the story and buying the two lead performances, occasional toe-curling lines didn’t take anybody out of the moment. One or two bizarre incursions of smutty dialogue did, however, leave an awkward pause punctuated by a few titters. There’s also a problem in the plotting with the main characters’ lack of agency in resolving the threat to Rachel’s life that leaves some key moments underwhelming. Having said that, every scene that features the stalker is handled to maximum dramatic effect. A few shock moments may well leave you jumping out of your seat, so be warned!
In the final analysis, we suspect that the vast majority of people will head along to ‘The Bodyguard – The Musical’ to hear the hits of Whitney Houston sung live by an acclaimed international recording artist, and presented gift-wrapped in a beautifully-packaged stage show. The romance between Rachel and Frank is plausibly played by two talented and complementary performers, so there is more than enough good will from the audience to overlook some of the sillier or less satisfying aspects of the book. Rather, audiences will come away having enjoyed spectacular production values.
Be prepared to feel ‘so emotional’ as the drama on stage plays out through the music of one of the most influential artists of the last four decades. ‘The Bodyguard – The Musical’ is a timeless story and a fitting tribute to Whitney Houston’s legacy.
Cast: Ayden Callaghan, Melody Thornton, John Macauley, Graham Elwell, Marios Nicolaides, Emily-Mae Director: Thea Sharrock Writer: Lawrence Kasdan, Alexander Dinelaris Theatre: The Churchill, Bromley Running time: 140 mins Performance dates: 15th-20th May 2023 Book ‘The Bodyguard’