I'm mad about The Bodyguard. Ever since I saw the movie in my teenage years, it's been one of my all-time favourite go-to films when I want to enjoy a singalong and truly engaging story. So, when I got the opportunity to go and see the stage show for a second time at Manchester's Palace Theatre, I had to snatch it with both hands!
Alexandra Burke returns in the lead role of Rachel Marron, opposite a devastatingly handsome Ben Lewis, as Frank Farmer. Their chemistry is electric from the first moment their characters meet up on stage. Though at first Rachel's reception to having a new bodyguard is one of disgust and annoyance, she quickly learns that his company is something she quite enjoys.
Frank is brought in to protect global superstar Rachel, when she receives a letter from a stalker - played by Phil Atkinson. Stealing one of her costumes, and feeling an emotional attachment on a level that's dangerous, to say the very least, he lurks in the shadows of scenes like a ghost, waiting to pounce on his idol whenever the opportunity arises. It was funny to hear some of the reactions from the audience when he took to the stage bare-chested - I even overheard two women talking about how they'd like to get to know the stalker a little better in the interval. Hilarious - but perhaps not what the creative team were going for!
Rachel is stubborn and unwilling to listen to advice from her bodyguard; her creative team haven't filled her in on the full story of what her stalker has been up to, so she thinks she's untouchable, agreeing to events despite the warnings that come from Frank. One of the night's best moments came after a rebellion by Rachel, in which she played a venue called the Mayan. Her stalker is amongst the crowd, and is shown getting ever-closer to Rachel as she performs a medley of Million Dollar Bill, I Wanna Dance With Somebody and So Emotional, through slow motion storytelling and special effects. The scene ends with the famous newly-wed pose, as Frank scoops Rachel up, and smoke is blasted out in front of the stage to create an awesome shadow effect.
When it comes to her performance, Burke did sound a little nasally at a handful of moments throughout the night, but it's not something we can hold against her in these winter months, with so much illness going around. If suffering from a cold, as I suspect, she did an incredible job of holding herself together, whilst many of the people in the audience coughed and spluttered.
Her vocals are, as expected, out of this world. It's not just the singing that grabs your attention, though. Burke is an extremely talented actor, bringing her A-game with a realistic American accent, and channeling her strong female attitude into a character that demands it. She proves that her five years in this role aren't simply because she's a household name, but somebody who has earned the role of Rachel Marron through sheer grit, hard work and determination.
Lewis is an experienced actor of theatre, and that shows whenever he's given the spotlight. Whether he's brooding and moody, or letting his hair down in the karaoke bar, giving a hilarious rendition of I Will Always Love You, he has the audience smiling. There's a real relatability the majority of those watching will be able to find in Frank, in that he wants to save the world and keep those around him safe from harm. Lewis plays this aspect of the character's personality without fault.
There are a total of six young actors taking on the role of Rachel's son, Fletcher, during this tour, and we got the privilege of seeing Caleb Williams in action. This young man is a real talent. He's got some slick dance moves, knows how to hold a tune, and can convey emotion as well as anybody else up on that stage. If this is just the start of his career in theatre, it's going to be amazing to see what he's able to do in the coming years, as he rises up through the ranks.
One of the real standouts of the show is Emmy Willow, who takes to the role of Rachel's sister Nicki Marron like a duck to water. Her voice is sensational, and she delivers a stunning rendition of Saving All My Love For You, where newbies to this story will be willing her to succeed in her pursuit of a romantic future with Frank. She's spent her life living in the shadow of her world-renowned sibling, and the tensions and jealousy that she's allowed to build up boil over on more than one occasion. One big twist involving Nicki leaves the audience gasping, and for good reason. Willow plays her expertly.
Props must also go to the entire ensemble of this show. Whether it's Gary Turner, Craig Berry, Neil Reidman or Simon Cotton as members of Rachel's team, or the wider cast who make up her performance crew (Rosie Cava-Beale, Gustave Die, Myles Cork, Chris Edgerley, Kerry Crozier, Sia Dauda, James-Lee Harris, Holly Liburd, Jack Loy, Jaime Cox, Danil Schmidt, Natalie Jayne Hall, Jessica Simmons, Helen Parsons, Yiota Theo and Michael Wade Peters), everyone who has worked so hard to bring this show together and put on a jaw-dropping performance deserves critical acclaim.
The Bodyguard runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until January 4th, 2020.
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