Having had consistent successes since first showing in 2012 - unsurprisingly so, with the ultimate Whitney Houston catalogue behind it - and based on the iconic film from 20 years prior, The Bodyguard continues to bring its story to audiences around the country. Currently touring the UK, the smash hit musical stars Zoe Birkett as the lead, Rachel Marron, alongside Ayden Callaghan as lover and fighter, Frank Farmer (both for selected venues only).
With Rachel's stratospheric rise to fame comes a significant safety risk - a posed threat from an unknown stalker. With herself and her son Fletcher (Sam Stephens, on this occasion) needing extra security, Frank is brought in to be the new bodyguard. Although met with some reluctancy to begin with, his gentle nature with the boy, and swift proving of heroism allowed warming to the concept of his presence. Nicki Marron (sister of the celebrity, played by Emily-Mae Walker) begins to enjoy Frank's company too though, creating an underlying sisterly battle for both the lust and the limelight. As the danger intensifies with each performance on the run up to important Oscars night, mysterious letters and a missing dress start a trace...
Few are great enough to take on a powerhouse of a role and accomplish it flawlessly, but Zoe Birkett was born to embrace it. Reprising the part of Rachel Marron, after appearing in the 2015 production, she is no stranger to belting out Whitney's legendary soundtrack and does so beautifully. From the slower 'I Have Nothing', 'Greatest Love Of All', 'One Moment in Time' and 'I Will Always Love You', to the more upbeat 'So Emotional', opening the show with 'Queen of the Night', and closing with 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody', each is done with impact: vocally stunning. To have the versatility individually to mirror one of the most inspiring and beloved artists of all time is a feat almost unmatched, and Zoe manages it with ease.
Also displaying her beautiful voice, Emily-Mae plays Nicki Marron in a gentle yet charming way, having her highlight being singing 'Saving All My Love For You'. Though only little, Sam Stephens makes a big impression as Fletcher, and is adored any time he graces the stage - he has huge potential. As for Ayden being Frank, his composure and characterisation is nicely done, but a duet or two to have heard his voice and offered a deeper connection to Rachel as their love affair begins would be a positive benefit (though obviously not fitting the 'terrible singer' trope he conveys, so maybe just her singing at him!).
Visually, the choreography, by Karen Bruce, for the dance pieces are appealing, and gig costumes designed by Tim Hatley shine in their elegance and flair, in comparison to the subtle nuances the more homely ones. The set, on the other hand, relies heavily on a curtain, and distinctly shows to be a touring composition, with a few stand out pieces such as the cabaret lounge and cabin, though generally seems fairly simple. Sections of projection are sometimes a bit tacky, but work at other points.
In all, by no fault of the cast, it seems as if the script lacked the intense passion and chemistry required to give strength to either the drama or romantic elements. Moments of raw emotion are few and far between, and some parts featured in the original movie are cut or don't translate as well as hoped, leaving sections feeling lacklustre, without enough punch. Performance components are executed brilliantly in contrast, and arguably would work alone as a concert version with effect.
Following the recent controversial discourse with regards to audience behaviour at this particular show, it was found to not be a problem in the slightest here, but who knows if that applies everywhere now. With several reminders not to sing (and common sense suggesting you're unlikely to have the pipes those on stage do anyway), the comedic karaoke scene represents just how we all sound in reality!
In summary, Zoe truly steals the show as The Bodyguard becomes the ideal illustration of her sheer talents. Furthering the legacy of an icon, it's the tracks and casting that sell the production on this occasion, with the storyline needing some altering to have maximum effect. Despite this, it was worth the trip that's guaranteed to have you on your feet by the end - you really can't beat some impressive renditions of Whitney.