Review The Bodyguard, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

All images credit Paul Coltas

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Before watching ‘The Bodyguard’, at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff I was very excited. The songs are many of my favourites and so I knew it would be an enjoyable performance, but this show did not disappoint. At first, I thought it would be similar to Motown in which the songs are great and popular, and people would sing along to, but the narrative is somewhat less important, but I could not have been more wrong. In fact, I would consider ‘The Bodyguard’ as one of the best all-round productions that I have seen. Having some of my ‘guilty pleasure’ songs included in this production was the icing on the cake.  The last time I saw Alexander Burke in a production was in ‘Sister Act,’ which I felt she didn’t suit but this powerful ballad-based character was a lot more suited to Alexander and her singing style.

The production’s opening was a striking shadow-projected scene, which had loud sound effects, which caused audible gasps from the audience. This was a fantastic way to grab audience attention in the first few minutes of the show. It was easy to spot that this scene would be book-ending the whole production and a similar scene would take place at the end of the show. This is the first time, in my experience, that this type of structure is used which made me keep the image in my head to see how the plot would lead to it again in the end. This meant the entire time I was thinking about this opening scene, which was not a distraction in any sense but would be considered an effective opening scene. The opening number however was flawless. The production values of staging, light and pyros was superb and the dancing was incredible. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I instantly drew comparisons of the character ‘Rachel Marron’ both are super successful artists, costumes show similarities to one another and the ‘performance’ of their songs (especially this one) were of the highest quality. However, I believe that this performance topped the Beyoncé performances I have seen live and this number could have easily been a show in itself. It would not have been out of place as a concert/performance in somewhere like the 02 Arena. The one small drawback to this number was, Alexander Burke, who played Rachel Marron, is an incredible singer and actor but her dancing is the weakest of the three (all of which are obviously of a high level but her dancing is not quite as good as the other two) which could be noticed through the big dance numbers such as this one and also during the opening number there was a short scene of dialogue which took place. Due to everything that was happening on the stage (lights, dancers, music etc.) I missed a lot of this dialogue which was clearly not what the directors would have wanted. The bold opening scene and awe-inspiring opening number contrasted each other perfectly and ‘set the scene’ for the rest of the production. This show alternates between these amazing, popular songs and tense dramatic scenes, which the opening sequences set up for the rest of the show beautifully.

Many of the supporting characters in this production were very relatable and believable which is important for productions like this. The young boy who plays Fetcher was an incredible dancer, which was shown in one of the dance rehearsals scenes towards the beginning of the musical. He was amazing and I would say upstaged some of the other dancers. They used the young boy to perform lifts and flips which obviously would have been easier due to the size of the actor. Although, during this scene the character crawled through a table which I believe did not quite fit the rest of the choreography, but this is a minor detail. This character would have primarily involved to provide an ‘awww’ factor as he is the young son of Rachel who gets caught up in the events of the stalker. This did build the sympathy toward Rachel and ‘hatred’ toward the stalker. The stalker (played by Phil Atkinson) was a key character although he is barely on the stage, even when he wasn’t on stage his presence could still be felt. When he was on stage when he is silent and is in almost darkness, which was an extremely effective way to build tension, and it is only in act two that he speaks. The whole presentation (including casting) of this character was perfect and this character-built fear from the audience. Although it was a bit strange that this character spent a lot the time without a top on.

One of the most enjoyable scenes in the whole show was a karaoke scene not because of dramatic staging, of phenomenal singing or whatever it was just a fun scene. It opened with three girls drunkenly singing ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ it was really funny and I felt like I have seen the same scene in real life. A group of girls singing a popular song like that in karaoke while ‘butchering’ the song, but the difference was in this show these actresses were doing it intentionally. This seemed to be a common theme in this production. Later in this scene, Frank Farmer, the bodyguard (played by Benoit Marechal) goes onto karaoke to take on Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ which I have personally been tempted to do but never have had the guts to due to the power of the song. However, Frank combated this by ‘talking’ the song, which had the whole audience rolling in laughter. Which was really nice to see the softer side of frank. This scene was ended by the iconic song ‘I Have Nothing’ which was beautifully sung by Alexander. Which was obviously sang to and about Frank as we found out they have an attraction between the two of them.

The final scene of this act was in a club. It revolved around Frank and Tony Scibeli, the security guard (played by Craig Berry) protecting Rachel from any potential threats in the club. In this scene the spotlight illuminates the stalker. This meant my eyes were following the stalker’s track around the stage, which only added to the tension and drama. IThis scene looked more like it took place in a nightclub due to the flashing lights and music rather than a normal club but apart from this the scene was well staged and executed.

The beginning of Act Two had a big dance number to the song ‘I’m Every Woman’, which is a song I know very well. The dancers in this scene were excellent and the acrobatics were a spectacle to watch. However, at certain points in the number there were movements that were supposed to be done at the same time and were actually out of time with one another. But I really enjoyed this opening, as its ‘over-the-top ness’ was a perfect way to regain the excitement after the intermission. There was a few people in the audience singing along with the music which I personally find great as it shows they are enjoying the song etc., but I know some people are against this, so this is worth noting.

In one scene the staging changed from a luxurious mansion to a log cabin. I really liked the concept of the staging as a log cabin suggest warmth and safety, which was exactly what it was supposed to do within the story. The contrasts between these two setting also helped shift the focus from Rachel and her fame/money etc. to family. This is added to be a heart-warming rendition of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ between Nicky Marron, Rachel and Fletcher. Fletcher however did struggle with this song as it is a complex rhythm and strange vocals but as he was a child this was somewhat ignored. The lights and effects were continued to be used to make the Stalker actually terrifying as he appears from nowhere at points and disappears quickly after.

Probably the biggest and best number in the entire production is the classic ‘I Will Always Love You.’ This song was kept right until the end to act as an emotional tribute to everything that happened throughout the narrative. As the earlier ‘rendition’ by Frank in karaoke, was comical this final number was show stopping. The staging, costume and lights worked perfectly to add to the emotional nature of the song and Alexander’s vocals were outstanding. She did change some of the vocal trills from the original, which were fantastic. During this song there was a montage projected onto the stage of the Rachel and Frank and their story so far. I found this to be somewhat distracting from the song and could have done without it, but the montage was not a cheesy and unnecessary  it was heartfelt and emotional. After all this happened the entire cast sung ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.’ This involved solos from different members of the cast, including the Stalker (which was a nice inclusion in my opinion), dance sequences and ‘party’ lighting. This was when the audience were encouraged to sing and dance. The two songs (I Will Always Love You and I Wanna Dance with Somebody) obviously contrasted each other and helped cement the pairing of drama and fun.

This production was well thought out and planned. Everything from music, lighting, costumes to props used all worked perfectly together, which was really nice to watch. The production aspects of the show were fantastic and one of the best I have seen. Alexander Burke’s portrayal of the iconic role is on par with Whitney’s (which is high praise) and this a show not to miss.

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