The Bodyguard arrives with a bang in to Sunderland Empire. Based on the 1992 film of the same name starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, the musical has been adapted and updated for the stage and is jam packed full of Houston’s greatest hits.
Playing Rachel Marron in Sunderland was North East favourite Zoe Birkett. No wannabe Whitney Warbler here, she sings the songs with pitch and tone to match her exquisite voice and the standing ovation for I Will Always Love You was rightly deserved.
However Stuart Reid’s karaoke version as the bodyguard in question, Frank Farmer, maybe wasn’t the best. He does smoulder quite well and his interaction with 10 year old Fletcher (T’Jai Adu-Yeboah) shows the tender side of the tough man.
Telling the story of Marron, a famous singer who hires an uncompromising ex-secret service agent, Farmer, to protect her from an obsessed stalker this is a love story between Rachel and Frank, with sister Nicki forced on the sidelines again, despite her own feelings for the bodyguard.
Rachel John is at times a show-stealer as sister Nicki. 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 and the Run to You duet between her and Birkett is the standout scene in the first half, their voices are vastly different, but work incredibly well together.
It’s not just the show-stopping numbers that keep the audience gripped, it’s also the thriller of a storyline as the gun-toting stalker edges ever closer to our superstar heroine. Matthew Stathers is incredibly sinister as the mysterious psychopath. He ratchets up the suspense until we’re on the edge of our seats. And the shooting scenes as he tries to kill from the middle of the audience are mesmerizing.
Don’t be thinking this is a mere jukebox musical though. It’s a truly stunning theatrical reimagining of the film, with spectacular staging in both the sets and costume design from Tim Hatley. With Lighting by Mark Henderson, Sound by Richard Brooker and the live band lead by Tom Gearing. The production is technically brilliant making this a very lavish performance.
From the explosive start to the feel good finale, the show dazzles and shines. It’s a high octane, emotional, enjoyable disco roller coaster ride and well worth the visit to see.
Reviewed by Lindsay Sykes
Photo: Paul Coltas
Playing until 12 March at Sunderland Empire and then continues its UK Tour