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The Bodyguard

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Heather Headley and ensemble

"I've got the stuff that you want..." and, sure, she does: Heather Headley is a soul sister knockout as Rachel Marron, Queen of the Night, the Whitney Houston role in the 1992 movie The Bodyguard, now recycled as a romantic pop rock opera with all the big hits and a flattened out, theatrical story-line.

Hired against the wishes of Rachel's entourage, Lloyd Owen’s broody Frank Farmer (the Kevin Costner "homage to Steve McQueen" role) is a former secret service agent haunted by his absence off duty when Ronald Reagan was shot (reference deleted, along with any sense of period, in this version) and an unlikely lady-killer, even inadvertently, despite his glowering, basso profundo presence.

Owen's a really fine actor, but doing very little on a stage is different from doing very little on screen, so director Thea Sharrock and her myriad producers have handed him first dibs with "I Will Always Love You", the Dolly Parton song that is a cover version voice-over when Whitney and Costner smooch in the back bar.

Trouble is, he doesn’t sing it very well, surprising in a Welshman, but then you realise he isn’t singing it very well deliberately, like Max Wall expertly messing up on his trumpet.

Heather Headley - the Broadway star of The Lion King and Aida - doesn't give us much of a clue, either: 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, Arthur Pita's electric musical staging and hyperbolic show-time routines, Debbie Kurup's fine performance as Rachel’s jealous sister, and will be relieved that Sean Chapman, not Gary Kemp, is playing the PR man.

The Bodyguard virgins, however, and musical theatre fanciers, may be mystified by the tepid plot twists, the dead dog, the exact identity of the stalker (Mark Letheren), the profusion of pleated curtains courtesy of designer Tim Hatley, the cumbersome unsuitability of the concept (lacking the film's landscapes, spooky night-time chase through the woods, the brilliantly edited Oscar night climax).

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.

All credit to a hot, snazzy band under Richard Beadle, the lighting of Mark Henderson and the cheerful contributions of Chapman, Ray Shell and Nicolas Colicos as the backing group entourage who never break sweat. And those who love the songs will probably need no further bidding.


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