It started with a bang and finished with a boogie – The Bodyguard – brilliant!
Barely had we taken our seats when we were jolted to attention by gunfire and a blackout before roaring flames and glittering costumes heralded the Queen of the Night, Alexandra Burke, with the first big number of the evening.
It was a spectacular opening from the 2008 X Factor winner, who was making that huge leap from pop performer to musical star. She has an impressive, controlled voice, which comes in handy when you’re playing the part made famous by none other than one of the greatest divas of all, Whitney Houston.
She also proved she can dance (one abiding memory was the Burke booty shaking it on down during I’m Every Woman!) and act competently and convincingly.
The UK tour of the production based on the movie of the same name has kicked off at the Theatre Royal Newcastle and this was Day Two in the big Bodyguard house.
I had absolutely no expectations of the stage show, having hated the film and detested its biggest hit – I Will Always Love You.
I know, I know, I made these confessions in the office and later in the pub this week and was greeted with howls of derision – mainly from the female contingent, it has to be said.
But, for me, the movie boasted little but a paper-thin plot and some wooden acting and relied too heavily on the tunes.
And that song – a Whitney standard it may be, but I have never been a fan of its over-elaborate warbling (the technical term being riffing) and turgid pace.
Starring Whitney as the singer with the big voice and Kevin Costner as her bodyguard and general eye-candy, the 1992 movie was panned by many critics, yet became the second-highest-grossing film worldwide that year, making $411million. The soundtrack went on to be the best-selling of all time, shipping more than 45million copies and out-muscling Saturday Night Fever. What do critics know?!
But, let’s face it, the romantic thriller, which was simply a vehicle for Whitney’s undoubted talents, was not a bloke’s film.
The stage adaptation, however, opened to rave reviews at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End in December 2012, with singer Heather Headley, followed by Beverley Knight, starring in the main role, until Burke took over in September 2013.
And, in my book, it is better suited to the live production, with many of the numbers being performed as if in concert by the lead character Rachel Marron.
So, it is not your typical musical theatre, but more a collection of hits stitched into a plot that involves the singer being hounded by a jealous, gun-toting stalker.
It was very cleverly staged at the Theatre Royal, with stark dividers used to section off parts of the action, and other scenes, like the madman at work, projected on to a large screen.
Although Burke will deservedly take the plaudits, she was almost upstaged by her co-star, the fantastic Melissa James, who played Rachel’s sister Nicki, as the pair belted out hit after hit, ballad after ballad. Her soft, deliciously-melodic tone contrasted sweetly with Burke’s more rasping voice and her renditions of Saving All My Love and All At Once were simply divine and sent tingles down my spine.
Stuart Reid was suitably Costner-like in the title role of Frank Farmer, commanding several curiously static scenes in the middle of the piece. His karaoke demolition of I Will Always Love You was entirely appropriate! He and baddie Mike Denman created some nerve-jangling moments throughout and kept us more on the edge of our seats than the movie ever managed.
The cheeky chappie who played Rachel’s young son Fletcher was a talent to watch for the future. Cute little Jhayheim Davis stole the show at times with his expert dancing and singing. He was like a cross between Michael Jackson and Lenny Henry.
Special mention, too, for the slick band and the top sound effects, which built a moody, menacing atmosphere.
The predominantly female audience last night really got into the swing of it and, by the end, everyone was on their feet boogying and clapping to the fantastic, energetic finale, I Wanna Dance With Somebody.
This was a tense love story with some huge songs that will be with you for hours after the show. Certainly, if you enjoyed the film, you’ll have a blast; if, like me, the screen version wasn’t your thing, get shot of it your mind, go along and just have fun.
And, do you know what, despite everything, I actually enjoyed Burke’s version of I Will Always Love You at the end. It started as a slow, a cappella lament and intensified to a dramatic crescendo as she was raised high above the stage. Nice work, Alexandra!
For tickets for The Bodyguard, head to the Theatre Royal’s website.
Note, Consett-born Zoe Birkett steps into Alexandra Burke’s shoes for matinee performances.