First Night: The Bodyguard, Adelphi Theatre London
With Whitney's star role reborn, it seems we'll always love her
Wednesday 05 December 2012
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.
And having been in the pipeline well before Whitney Houston's untimely death, it can't really be accused of cashing in on the tragedy, though inevitably, in a piece that now resounds to the singer's back catalogue, her spirit is conjured up in all its dazzling, pre-downfall pomp.
Alexander Dinelaris's theatrical re-working sticks perhaps too closely to the original 1992 movie.
The sexily laconic Lloyd Owen plays the Kevin Costner role of Frank Farmer, the ex-Secret Service agent who is hired to protect Rachel Marron, singer-songwriter-turned-actress and Oscar nominee.
As this imperious diva, the American Heather Headley may not have Houston's air of amused, wittily insolent provocation in the duels with Frank over control, but she's a stellar presence, looks stunning in an array glittery outfits, and is in knockout voice. Those turbocharged portamenti with which she slides upwards into a different key and onto a new plane of intensity and those stratospheric swoops and swirls make your stomach lurch with delight.
The adaptation beefs up the part of Nicki, Rachel's overshadowed sister; it takes an often quite literally different angle on the stalker; and it shifts the proceedings into an updated, hi-tech world where a mobile phone film of Rachel can go viral on YouTube.
The Houston songbook is plundered both for the heroine's public Grammy-winning repertoire and for moments of private self-expression by her and the other characters.
So, for example, "Run To You" becomes a sort of split-screen ardent duet of rival yearning for Frank in which Debbie Kurup's splendid Nicki gives Headley a total run for her money.
It's a droll touch, too, that Frank here takes Rachel to a karaoke bar on their first date and is forced into a comic, sheepishly reluctant rendition of the Dolly Parton number "I Will Always Love You" way ahead of its passionately plangent reprise at the conclusion.
Thea Sharrock's sleekly assured production moves with a velvet fluency thanks to the screens that open and close like camera shutters in Tim Hatley's handsome, canny design (the ventures into video are less fortunate).
Of course, with so many numbers now presented as full-on showbiz routines, replete with a goddessy hydraulic lift (at a single mothers' benefit, at the Oscars etc), the balance of this romantic thriller tips too far away from Frank whose emotional problems now pale in impact before his derring-do, as when he scoops the mobbed Rachel into his arms, reproducing the famous poster image – which is here then campily magnified as a jagged silhouette on a cloud of smoke.
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.
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