REVIEW: The Bodyguard at New Wimbledon Theatre ★★★

Based on the hit 1992 film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, The Bodyguard musical premiered in 2012 at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End. An instant success with audiences, the show went on to international fame with seasons in Utrecht, Cologne, Seoul, Australia, a US, Japan and China Tour just to name a few. Back on home soil, the musical has seen multiple UK tours and was last seen in the West End in 2017. This year another tour of The Bodyguard is making its way around the UK and Ireland and visits the New Wimbledon Theatre, bringing the familiar story of pop star Rachel Marron and her Bodyguard back to London for one week only.

Adapted by Alexander Dinelaris from the film, The Bodyguard concerns former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, as he is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge – what they don’t expect is to fall in love. While the film portrays both Frank and Rachel as quite unlikable characters, Dinelaris’s musical puts Rachel in the forefront rather than the bodyguard and propels the show to present day while expanding characters, giving them more emotional depth and fleshing out the story. The musical element of the story features the movie soundtrack including One Moment in Time, I’m Every Woman, Run To You, I Have Nothing and I Will Always Love You and uses Houston’s back catalogue to include favorites How Will I Know, Greatest Love Of All, Saving All My Love for You and I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

Leading the cast for this new UK Tour is Grammy-nominated and former Pussycat Doll, Melody Thornton as Rachel Marron and Emmerdale and Hollyoaks star Ayden Callaghan as Frank Farmer. Joining them are Emily-Mae (Bulda in Disney’s Frozen, Angel City 4 in City of Angels, Paradice in Brooklyn the Musical, Ulla in The Producers) as Nicki Marron, John Macaulay (The Comedy of Errors, Fatal Attraction, August: Osage County) as Bill Devaney, Graham Elwell (Of Mice and Men, Carlos in The Last Of The Duty-free) as Tony, James Groom (‘Killer Joe” in Tracy Lett’s American Gothic play, Peter and Simon in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia, Bridgerton) as Sy Spector, Marios Nicolaides (Frank Jr and understudy Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, Annie, Willie Lopez in Ghost) as Stalker and Fergal Coghlan (Sus, Money Heist, The Mousetrap) as Ray Court. As a supporting ensemble are Alexandros Beshonges, Kayne Gordon, Jack Hardwick, Kalisha Johnson, James Lee Harris, Samantha Mbolekwa, Abbie Quinnen, Kellie Rhianne, Charlotte Scally, Yiota Theo and Marco Venturini. The role of Rachel’s son Fletcher is shared by Kaylenn Aires Fonseca (Joseph, A Christmas Carol, School Of Rock), Iesa Miller (Young Craig in Tina the Musical, Chip in the UK tour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), Frankie Keita (Light of Passage, Anne of Green Gables) and Reneo Kusi-Appauh in his professional debut.

As our Queen Of The Night, Melody Thornton as Rachel Marron makes the part her own bringing her pop vocal to Whitney’s iconic songs. While Thornton gives a competent performance as Rachel, it’s hard not to compare her vocally to Whitney Houston especially in a theatrical climate where we have some very strong juke box musical performances. While Alexander Dinelaris’s book for the musical fleshes out Rachel’s character with more heart than the film, Thornton’s performance lacked emotional nuance and as a result the chemistry between her and Ayden Callaghan’s Frank seemed somewhat labored. Despite this, Ayden Callaghan gave a solid performance as our Bodyguard Frank Farmer. Callaghan’s ability to show strength and vulnerability simultaneously makes his Farmer identifiable and charming as he brings the audience on side immediately. With a powerful vocal performance, confident character work and nuanced emotional depth Emily-Mae as Rachel’s sister Nicki Marron was the stand out performance of the evening. Emily-Mae’s renditions of Saving All My Love for You and All At Once were absolutely beautiful and she gave an outstanding performance throughout.

While all elements of this production came together sufficiently, I felt it was all somewhat dated. Slow transitions and constant scene changes behind a main curtain plagued the set design, while the costumes gave little wow factor and seemed in a constant battle with the modern day setting. While video projections to hide scene changes added interest to the set, we already have the film the musical is based on. The addition of video projections to explain plot in a live action musical based on a film, seemed confusing and out of place. In recent years, audiences have been treated to many high standard touring productions and while enjoyable, I feel this production of The Bodyguard could benefit from an overall update.

In the post pandemic climate where audiences are enjoying classic tours like Dirty Dancing, Grease and Rock of Ages, The Bodyguard works well offering a well-known story and featuring some of the greatest hits of all time. So grab your One Moment In Time and get tickets now to catch The Bodyguard at the New Wimbledon Theatre for a no-brainer fun night out.

Reviewed by Stuart James