- The Bodyguard: The Musical
- Written by
- Alexander Dinelaris
- Directed by
- Thea Sharrock
- Beverley Knight
- Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto
Well, The Bodyguard makes for a swell Beverley Knight concert, anyway.
Knight, a singer dubbed the "Queen of British Soul" at home, romps through hits associated with Whitney Houston from I'm Every Woman to How Will I Know in this West End jukebox musical currently visiting Toronto on tour.
Her performance feels like an homage to Houston, rather than an imitation. And her renditions favour musicality over showing off (no overdoing the melisma); they're at their best when she gets right down into her gut, as she does wrenchingly in a climactic croon of I Will Always Love You.
Alas, Knight's soulful showmanship is frequently interrupted by a play, a busy and uninspired stage adaptation of the 1992 movie that starred Houston as a superstar diva named Rachel Marron and Kevin Costner as the bodyguard named Frank Farmer who reluctantly protects her.
The movie currently holds a 32-per-cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes – so it's not as if The Bodyguard is a cinematic masterpiece that should be protected by a bulletproof vest. It's notable for being one of the first movies to simply show an interracial romance, rather than being about one, but its success was always about the soundtrack – still the bestselling one of all time.
Indeed, there was an opportunity to make a superior stage thriller – one squandered here by book writer Alexander Dinelaris (one of the four writers of Birdman). The original was cheesy but had a few fun twists and turns. Dinelaris's rejig has straightened it out into a dull cat-and-mouse tale – showing us who Rachel's obsessive stalker is right from the start (an ab-tastic Matthew Stathers, always carrying around a supersized butcher knife that he must have used to slice off the buttons of his shirt, because it's always hanging open).
Dinelaris has updated the action to our times, which means lots of sub-TV procedural jibber-jabber about IP addresses and cellphones, while conveniently ignoring the proliferation of technologies, such as CCTV, that would shorten the plot by an act.
Thankfully, most of the numbers in director Thea Sharrock's swiftly moving production don't try to integrate Houston's hits into the story – and are simply of Rachel Marron, i.e., Knight, in performance on an arena tour, in rehearsal, doing a secret show at a small club. She's even shown writing Greatest Love of All at her piano, on the spot – her jealous sister Nicki (Rachel John) popping by to suggest a melody change.
As the titular bodyguard, Stuart Reid – who only sings once in the show, as a joke – has to do a lot of sitting or standing at attention while Knight sings. He gives a very impassive, closed-off performance, never seeming to be all that into the music or her, making the sudden spark of romance a fizzle. He's so bland, I mistook one of the chorus guys for him in one scene.
There are glimmers of humour in Sharrock's production in a scene set at a karaoke bar – where three of the chorus gals lovingly mangle Where Do Broken Hearts Go. Jokes in Dinelaris's script, however, are less successful. One about Gordon Ramsay making soul food backfires, because it only draws attention to the artificiality of this America-set musical imported from Britain. Don't let TV stars such as Idris Elba or Andrew Lincoln fool you – most British stage actors are actually really bad at American accents, as this production proves.
Oddly, The Bodyguard is at its most fun and theatrical after the curtain call, when the cast lets its hair down and dances to I Wanna Dance With Somebody half in character, half out of character. Rachel even gets to dance with her stalker and choreographer Karen Bruce's best moves of the night are unleashed.
With creative, innovative American musical theatre on the rise again, this ersatz show is a reminder of the bad old days a decade ago, when Broadway seemed as if it were a recycling bin. But those wanting the hits and a bit of glitz won't be disappointed.
The Bodyguard continues in Toronto to April 9 (mirvish.com).