The Bodyguard, the new West End musical based on the film, opens tonight. In the now-iconic role created by the late, great Whitney Houston, Tony winner Heather Headly makes her big (and brave, considering the shoes she’s stepping into with this role) return to the musical stage.
Naturally, the curiosity factor for me is pretty high. Coincidentally, my buddy Ali — who adores his glitzy jukebox megamusicals, which are about as plentiful in the West End as those little red telephone booths — caught the final press preview performance last night and is attending the grand opening tonight. Ali’s exclusive review follows:
So Emotional, Baby: The Bodyguard opens in London
The ever growing list of movie-to-musical adaptations continues with the recent addition of The Bodyguard. Having been preceded by shows including Ghost, Sister Act, Flashdance and Dirty Dancing, this long spate of movie-to-musical madness seizes to stop.
This version of The Bodyguard, which is based on the 1992 film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, is set in our present day, and the show’s aesthetic is a good indication of that; utilizing never stopping automated moving scenery, Gaga-esque re-orchestrations, referencing emails and “pictures going viral” and, of course, what is a new live musical these days without pre-taped film projections? The plot has been slightly altered to focus on one very creepy and scary stalker instead of two villains, and also gives a more in-depth treatment of Rachel’s relationship with her sister Nikki, played by Debbie Kurup. Oh, did I mention that there is an endless stream of ballistic power ballads?
Heather “Queen of the Night” Headley plays Rachel Marron, a Grammy winning pop superstar/Oscar nominee/working mother, who is a combination of Beyonce, and well, Ms. Houston. She carries the show on her sculpted shoulders and plays a perfectionist no-nonsense hard worker versus Houston’s spoiled and stubborn take.
As in most jukebox musicals it’s fun to see ways songs are organically woven in the plot. While Mamma Mia’s plot is shaped around the songs, The Bodyguard does not have that flexibility as most of its songs have to battle their way into a pre-fixed plot. There are some that work miraculously well (Rachel singing that Frank the bodyguard is “all the man that she needs” while he’s asleep, then seamlessly segueing into a recording studio), but there are some instances where the songs are shoe-horned in and only serve as concerts, rehearsals, or Oscar performances that Rachel is appearing in.
Bodyguard is unapologetically commercial, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying some of the show’s deliciousness, which outweigh any of its shortcomings.
The show’s fiercest competition is a mere 20 minute walk away at the Piccadilly Theatre. Viva Forever is a new jukebox musical produced by the Mamma Mia team and written by the creator of British smash-hit comedy series, AbFab. Viva uses songs from the Spice Girls song book, offering a night full of shits and giggles that doesn’t take itself seriously or emotionally as The Bodyguard.
It’s hard to tell how the future of this show will pan out. It is certainly not the stuff for Broadway, but it might have the chance to do quite well in London, where the theatre going public is gentler and more welcoming to jukebox and power pop musicals than their counterparts across the Atlantic. I hope it does well so that some crazy producer will soon give us a Celine Dion musical