Despite it having been 1992’s second-highest-grossing film* neither of the Whingers ever quite got round to seeing The Bodyguard. On the other hand no wild horses would have been required to get them to the sadly urrealised sequel starring Princess Diana as the romantic lead. We can only dream. In the meantime…
Since both Whitney Houston (who starred in the original) and Princess Di both met untimely ends it’s little wonder that Rihanna has apparently ruled out appearing in a remake.
Anyhoo Tony and Grammy-winning actress/singer Heather Headley now takes on the role of diva Rachel Marron, a six-time Grammy-winning superstar with two number ones (her number twos are not mentioned) in this musicalisation of the romantic thriller.
Well, actually Miss Headley only appears if you do not find yourself at one of the “certain performances” at which Gloria Onitiri fills in. Of course, the Whingers just happened to be at one of those “certain performances”. That is how their lives go.
Who knew? Not us. Not for the entire first act. We were blissfully unaware of any short-changing until the perky girls sitting behind us enlightened us at the interval. No wonder Onititri’s face didn’t match the video projections. We’re told Headley has quite a sensational voice but we shall never know.
We blame Elaine Paige who as far as we know started the trend in Evita and even if she didn’t she would have. You wouldn’t have caught Ethel Merman doing less than eight shows a week but for our preview (and we were not the only ones – just how many “certain performances” are there?) Headley was doing some promotional work for the show by performing at the Royal Variety Performance. Ah well, the greater good. Anyway, one of Phil’s letters is on its way to the theatre management.
Frank Farmer (“Frances” to his friends, we like to imagine) is a bodyguard. Or should that be “body-guard” or “body guard”? The production has rather bizarrely opted for BodyGuard for the logo.
Anyway, Farmer is assigned to protect the aforementioned Marron from a dangerous stalker (Mark Letheren), a man who has helicopter noises in his head and a penchant for sending creepy missives and pilfering glittery items from Rachel’s wardrobe.
At first Farmer and Marron don’t hit it off at all, mainly due to her being a grumpy cow, but even with our unfamiliarity with the source material we had an inkling as to where it was all heading.
Our problem was that her character is such an unlikable, self-obsessed (tellingly half the show’s numbers have ‘I’ in the title), stroppy sow that we were quickly rooting for the potential killer and praying that an early bullet between her eyes would enable us all to go home unexpectedly early.
What you make of it all probably depends a lot on your liking for overblown Whitney power ballads so beloved by the dwindling X-Factor audiences which have been shoe-horned in to ensure that the already rather underpowered plot grinds to a halt completely from time to time. The Whingers clearly aren’t attuned to this genre: standing outside the theatre during the interval reading the list of songs on the billboard they couldn’t say for sure which they had already heard and which were still to come.
Not that Onitiri doesn’t perform them well. She does (when we could hear them once the sound had settled down) and she certainly gave an impressively assured performance as she couldn’t, at this stage, have had many opportunities to perform the role in front of an audience.
There is a cheekily brave idea to have the first outing of show’s USP “I Will Always Love You” delivered in a karaoke bar by Frank. Lloyd Owen is rather good, actually. If you half-heartedly ironed Rich Hall’s face and had him mime to Lee Hazlewood records, Lloyd Owen is close to what you’d end up with. As well as being “the best in the business” when it comes to BodyGuarding, Frank boasts technology skills too – effortlessly switching from phone call to email and back again on his smartphone without cutting the caller off – something neither Whinger has ever mastered.
Debbie Kurup (who incidentally stood in for an indisposed Patina Miller at the Whingers’ preview viewing of Sister Act – is this a trend with American performers?) is excellent as Rachel’s more grounded sister Nicki. By the way, if you see this, [SEMI-SPOILER] please put us out of our misery and explain how Nicki wrote back to the assassin? Had he put his address on the back of the envelope in case of delivery problems?
The show starts with a bang (literally) and there are many others to ensure you don’t actually nod off over your Maltesers although an early appearance of Phil’s theatrical bête noire the park bench didn’t help to bring him onside.
The low point was the appearance of a completely redundant camp queen flouncing backstage at the climactic Academy Awards sequence which really got the Whinger’s dander up, even though a large portion of the audience found it hilarious. One must only hope that in this curiously humour-free show they were simply desperate for an easy laugh and willing to clutch at anything.
One is called upon to make one’s own amusement from time to time (mostly during the songs). Andrew set himself the task of proof-reading the giant Academy Award in the background which was made up of words such as “director”, “thank” and “grow” and was rewarded by spotting the word “priviledge”.
There are still another couple of weeks of previews to go so that can be fixed. And hopefully director Thea Sharrock will knock some of the more awkwardly delivered scenes into something less stilted and perhaps some of the scenes will end less abruptly than they do. The violent dramatic climax can almost pass unnoticed if you don’t look in the right place (Andrew missed it).
Tim Hately’s sets slide and close like camera shutters rather elegantly even if the video projections occasionally make you wonder why they didn’t just remake the film after all. There are some curious costumes – watch out for Rachel’s wonky-Bugs-Bunny-ears hat early on in the show (the scene in which the dancers sport a daring combination of MC Hammer trousers and Louis XVI wigs). She also gets to wear a remarkable yellow puffball skirt (which looks a bit like an ineptly applied lemon flavoured ribbed condom) for the tacked-on post-curtain call performance of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” which – as well as getting those not already ovating up on their feet – at least gives an underused Ray Shell a brief moment to sing.
The BodyGuard will appeal to those who loved Dirty Dancing, Mamma Mia et al but how the Whingers admired the two ladies in the centre of the second row who resolutely refused to stand and shake their booties (the Whingers were forced to stand in order to see, but didn’t shake their booties which just sagged as per).
A curate’s egg. On one hand there’s an expensive slickness about the production while other bits of it are messier than Whitney’s sink. And we all know what that led to.
The Whingers’ The BodyGuard tickets were generously provided by Cheap Theatre Tickets.
* Aladdin, since you ask.