The Bodyguard has just undergone its biggest cast change since opening on the West End last year, and the creative team certainly took a few risks. Every single one of them has paid off. The Bodyguard boasts one of the strongest leading casts in the West End, headed up by the incomparable Beverley Knight as Rachel Marron.
The show opened with Heather Headley as Rachel, the role originated by Whitney Houston. Although widely praised by critics for her performance, her run became as synonymous with absences as Martine McCutcheon’s in My Fair Lady. There were many saying that audiences were being sold short by Headley’s lack of appearances.
Audiences will be pleased to know, then, that they will certainly be getting their money’s worth with the divine Beverley Knight, who has just taken over the role. An established soul singer and songwriter with six albums of her own under her belt, Knight is a seasoned pro. She soars through Houston’s emotive songs, with a power and control that even Houston would surely have admired. She owns the stage from the explosive opening number, ‘Queen of the Night’, captures all the nuances of the emotional ‘Run To You’, and closes the show perfectly with her final earth-shatteringly, heart-wrenchingly beautiful performance of ‘I Will Always Love You’.
This marks Knight’s theatrical debut, and despite a slightly shaky few scenes at the start of the show, Knight proves that she absolutely deserves her place in the West End. Knight demonstrates a great sensitivity, and watching her Rachel go from headstrong, self-assured diva to vulnerable, passionate and tender mother is excruciatingly exquisite. A magnificent debut from Knight.
Playing the eponymous bodyguard, Frank Farmer, is Tristan Gemmill. Perhaps most famous for playing Dr Adam Trueman on Casualty, Gemmill is spot on as the brooding, tall-dark-and-handsome hero. While Gemmill’s portrayal has all the hallmarks of the all-American hero with a dark past, it is considered and never overplayed with some lovely moments of humour and tenderness.
Debbie Kurup continues in the role of Nicki Marron, Rachel’s put-upon and neglected sister. Kurup gives an emotionally charged performance, which is perfectly pitched, completed by a flawless voice. Michael Rouse as The Stalker is aptly sinister and threatening. Mark Jones was delightfully endearing as Rachel’s son Fletcher; a demanding role for a child actor, but Jones seems to thoroughly relish the part. The ensemble are a little more hit and miss; there are some brilliant performances, let down by one or two performers that are not quite as on the ball as the rest.
The show, which tells the tumultuous love story of superstar Rachel Marron and her bodyguard Frank Farmer, is at times predictable and elements of the story have, since the success of the film starring Houston herself, become clichéd. Some of the scripting is hammy, and at times the costumes are lacking in ambition.
That said, it is a downright glorious show. Whitney Houston’s songs are some of the best in pop music history, and the songs featured are perfectly chosen. The musical numbers are staged to perfection by director Thea Sharrock and choreographer Arthur Pita, and superb use is made of Tim Hatley’s dynamic set design. Mark Henderson’s lighting design is flawless and the tight band, under the baton of musical director Richard Beadle, is note-perfect.
Since it opened last year, the show has really picked up with extraneous scenes being shrewdly cut. It is now an entertaining, pacy, exciting show. The iconic silhouette of Frank carrying Rachel out of a club, seen against a wall of billowing smoke, is a particularly memorable image.
With a leading cast of such calibre and songs that almost blow the roof off the theatre, it is no surprise that the audience are dancing in the aisles by the finale. Beverley Knight’s performance is astounding; do not miss out on seeing her in this role. Part concert, part cinematic love story, The Bodyguard is extraordinary despite its flaws. One of the most enjoyable shows currently on the West End.
The Bodyguard is playing at the Adelphi Theatre, now booking until 8 March 2014. For more information and tickets, see the Shows In London website.