REVIEW: The Bodyguard (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★

The Bodyguard quite literally arrived in Sunderland with a bang!!!

Based on the 1992 film, starring the late Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard tells the story of Rachel Marron, a famous singer who has uncompromising ex-secret service agent, Frank Farmer, hired for her to protect her from an obsessed stalker. Unlike the film, this is a love story between Rachel and Frank, with sister Nicki forced on the sidelines again, despite her own feelings for Frank.

Alexandra Burke plays Rachel, her riffs and vocal gymnastics are just the kind of techniques most singing show contestants love to mimic these days. Demonstrating why Burke won a certain singing show in 2008. However Alexandra Burke could only dazzle us because of the immensely talented supporting cast.

Ben Lewis’s karaoke version as the bodyguard in question, Frank Farmer, maybe wasn’t the best, although he was hiding a terrific singing voice under his gruff exterior. He does smoulder quite well and his interaction with 10 year old Fletcher (Lemar Bucknor Jr, Noah Burnett, Riotafari Gardener, Sheldon Golding, Ethan Marsh and Caleb Williams sharing the role) shows the tender side of the tough man. Bucknor Jn performed on press night and he is a young man with amazing talent, playing Rachel’s son Fletcher with skill. What a singer and dancer and such maturity.

The real star of the show was Emmy Willow as Nikki, Rachel’s sister (who is given more of a backstory, it seems, than either of the two lead characters). She gives an emotional performance as the hard-done-by younger sister who is outshone by her famous sibling at every turn, her version of All At Once was outstanding. John has a beautifully clear and soulful voice. She released her inner Whitney and perfected every single moment she had on stage.

The Stalker played with sufficient creepiness by James-Lee Harris, was a particularly nasty piece of work. And whilst some of the audience couldn’t initially see the evilness beyond the six-pack, the enormous boo’s he received at the end of the show told of a part well performed!

Unfortunately when Burke and company aren’t singing or dancing up a storm, the audience is left with mostly cheesy, overly-exaggerated melodrama, flat, one-dimensional characters, and even, at times, overdone “thrills” that make you laugh instead of feeling any suspense.

It’s the music that saves this show. The live orchestra (Micheal Riley, Phil Waddington, Chris Gardiner, Steve Willingham, Sam Edgington, Ollie Boorman, Rob Greenwood and Matt Davies) play the musicals versions of Whitney’s greatest hits in a spectacular fashion. How Will I Know, I’m Every Woman, Queen of the Night and I Wanna Dance With Somebody feel like a lovely little nostalgia trip back to school disco’s in the 80’s and 90’s and the extended “mega-mix” of the show songs at the end of the show have the audience up on their feet singing, clapping and dancing along with the cast.

It’s a cheesy show, the acting is okay with the questionable storyline, but for Whitney Houston fans (and if the audience at Sunderland is anything to go by, there are still quite a lot out there) then this is probably the show for you.

Reviewed by Susan Lindsay

Photo: Paul Coltas

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