Book by Alex Dinelaris based on the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, music and lyrics by various
Michael Harrison, David Ian, Crossroads Live, MEHR-BB Entertainment, Playing Field Theatre Ltd, Marvish Productions and Michael Watt
The Palace, Manchester
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Perhaps the growing concern about anti-social behaviour by over-enthusiastic (or over-refreshed) audiences spoiling live performances is having an impact. At Manchester’s Palace Theatre, pre-show announcements and signs at the bar instruct patrons to refrain from singing along during The Bodyguard until the encore, when the show becomes a jukebox musical with a full-cast version of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody". I try not to take the instruction personally.
The musical of The Bodyguard follows faithfully the plot of the movie. Bodyguard Frank Farmer (Ayden Callaghan) keeps his professional and personal lives separate, never becoming friendly with his clients and moving on once his job is done. Rachel Marron (Melody Thornton) is an unappealing client who refuses to take seriously the risk to her safety. Naturally, Rachel comes with the requisite bloody irritating manager, a talented but overlooked sister and a ten-year-old son who needs a father figure. She has also attracted the unwanted attention of a murderous stalker convinced the only way to save Rachel is to kill her.
Thrillers require a lean structure with clearly defined characters and a fast pace. Musicals on the other hand are a looser form of entertainment, the audience accepts from time to time the plot will pause while the characters burst into song. Alex Dinelaris, who adapts the screenplay to the stage, avoids the inherent problems arising from merging two incompatible genres. The singing, in act one, is restricted to the actors who are playing musicians and their songs are, realistically, limited to scenes of professional engagements such as concerts.
The discipline breaks down as the show progresses with Rachel and her sister Nicki (Emily-Mae) using the songs to articulate their inner feelings. But the approach allows a degree of authenticity unusual in a musical and also acknowledges the hit song from the show was written by Dolly Parton. Country and western fan Frank Farmer sings an off-key karaoke version of "I Will Always Love You".
Melody Thornton grows into the role of Rachel Marron as the show progresses. Initially, she seems to be forcing the songs, but by the conclusion of act one is vocally convincing. She remains, however, a singer rather than an actor and does not generate convincing chemistry with Ayden Callaghan. Callaghan seems more at home with Emily-Mae whose warm and sympathetic interpretation of the overlooked sister Nicki is a stand-out.
Director Thea Sharrock sticks to the thriller concept—opening with a gunshot blast and generating gasps and nervous laughter from the audience with horror-movie moments of The Stalker popping up unexpectedly.
But the production is uneven, the opening number is full-scale stadium rock with blasts of flame so intense as to make you check your eyebrows are intact afterwards. Yet the crucial scene in a disco, where Rachel is endangered by overenthusiastic fans, is underpowered. Barely a handful of dancers is insufficient to suggest an unruly mob, so the scene of Frank Farmer desperately fighting his way through a crowd towards Rachel and the menacing stalker is simply unconvincing. The scene might work better slowed down into a druggie hallucinogenic atmosphere to disguise the thin crowd.
Despite some rough edges, The Bodyguard is a crowd-pleasing show with tremendous interpretations of pop classics.
Reviewer: David Cunningham