The Bodyguard - London (WE) 2013
Sep 4, 2012
Attitude Magazine ****
First thing’s first. The Bodyguard is, by a substantial margin, the best new musical of the year.
In what has been a pitifully poor year for musicals, and only a month before a spring crowded with major new shows, The Bodyguard, based on (or, rather, reincarnating) the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston film of 20 years ago, is immaculately staged, designed and lit, snappily written, has one of the best sound designs in London and the most consistently strong cast of any musical since London Road. It looks great, it sounds great, the production values are unarguable and fans of Whitney Houston will find plenty of the songs they love (even if she only co-wrote one of them). Heather Headley, long-since a Broadway name, shows us what she’s made of, acting with charming understatement singing like a powerhouse. Brilliant Lloyd Owen, as her bodyguard-cum-lover, is thrilling in a deadpan slightly Leslie Nielsen kind of way. There’s also top support from Debbie Kurup as the potential (if somewhat tacked on) love interest and Sean Chapman as the smart-talking agent.
The one tiny problem is that this is not a musical. Even allowing for the convenience of the central character being a famous singer (which means, of course, that she has to sing) there is only one song in the whole evening which matters to the plot and even that is a scene in which Owen’s Bodyguard (the title should really be “The Unprofessional”) encourages his client to sing in a karaoke bar. (Yes, really.) There are maybe two songs that offer any emotional value. The rest are skin-tags on the story rather than the spine of the evening. In any case the songs are, in the main, distinguished by performance rather than writing.
One would be churlish to complain that the central premise, the unprofessionalism of the bodyguard, is completely implausible or that the dramatic denouement is less exciting than it should be. (I know of few would-be assassins who do a slow-motion Greased Lightning with their gun before taking the shot, but maybe that’s just me.) And it would be an unkind person who said that Matthew Warchus (director of Ghost) should be given a co-director’s credit as so many of the presentational flourishes which make The Bodyguard are variations on his vision for that (far superior) show.
But who cares? Tim Hatley’s constantly moving screens open up different cinema windows through which locations magically appear - an idea impressively used at the same address for Sunset Boulevard many years ago as well as for several plays on Shaftesbury Avenue since. He is aided by Mark Henderson’s typically dazzling lighting, albeit with the kind of X-Factor zappiness which make some moments look like a Vari-Lite expo.
The Bodyguard is a show that deserves to succeed far beyond any other show that has opened in London since Matilda a year ago. Whether, come the spring arrivals of so many major new musicals, it may need a bullet-proof vest of its own, we’ll soon see.