Leeds Grand Theatre, Saturday 14th May, 2016.
Let’s start by saying that this is a fantastic production featuring some very gifted actors. There is a little anecdote to be relayed before we get to the nitty gritty regarding the successes of ‘The Bodyguard’ though… Do not skip this anecdote. It may save your eyesight…and any (appreciated) hair above the neck!
My mother was due to visit and I needed to book something to entertain in the evening. I did the rounds and liked the idea of seeing ‘The Bodyguard’ as it was starring Alexandra Burke, who we’d both loved and voted for in the distant, distant past. Looking at tickets, the only available seats were in the front row- ‘strange’ thought I, ‘surely they’d be the first to go?’ Prices were reasonable and so I ignored our usual habit of sitting at least 5 rows back for the big shows (convinced of neck strain etc etc) and booked. I often sit on the front row for smaller scale, studio theatre performances so I didn’t think too much of this choice. This seating was, (ironically, if you read my ‘An Inspector Calls’ review) the only flaw of the evening… I wasn’t phased by the slightly obscured view and I was not particularly concerned that a large bulb was directly level with my face, as it was quite clearly facing the stage…how was I to foresee that light turning to face the audience…and my eyes?
As you might quite rightly expect, this show opens spectacularly, with a wattage of lighting that I couldn’t name and huge streaks of fire flying out of the stage…two metres away from my face, in the front row… I instantly had visions of myself aflame, akin to Michael Jackson’s infamously terrifying ordeal- instantly regretting my generous application of hairspray… This was, of course, why these seats had remained available; those in the know had valued both their eyesight and their eyebrows… Thankfully, that impressive opening number was the only one to make use of said flames and the lighting was then only an issue on a couple of the more fast- paced tracks. There was an awkward moment when Alexandra Burke herself seemed to catch my streaming eyes as a I struggled to keep them open and on the stage. I would therefore, just like to clarify, in the event that Ms. Burke should ever stumble across this little blog: you were absolutely, skin-pimplingly fantastic and I am sorry for my unwillingly streaming and averted eyes. My point is this: think twice before sitting on the front row at the big shows- particularly those strung together by poppy anthems which will inevitably arrive with all the wattage of Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree. No one wants to be that close to those special effects…
There was one key advantage to this seating, which was the proximity to Alexandra and Rachel John when they were up there making each Whitney classic their own in some vocally mesmerising way; I defy someone of my funds to get tickets to an Alexandra/ Rachel concert and get so close to the magic. For this particular benefit, I was in fact grateful for those seats…
The production itself is everything you would expect from a touring West End show, although not as spectacular or visually impressive as a lot of the other shows that I have seen. In fact, this production makes far better use of its talented dancers than it does of the set, which is either a result of this being a smaller scale touring production or more commendably, of it placing greater value in the ensemble than the scenery. The classic, swift set changes and that feeling of scale with the big stage shows were present though; I don’t want to misrepresent the quality of the set design here, my point is that if you have seen the likes of ‘Matilda’, ‘Priscilla’, ‘Sister Act’ or ‘Memphis’, you mustn’t expect that same scale or spectacle from the set used in this production; this production is a showcase of the cast.
The cast were great and as expected, Burke belted those hits out with sass and beauty. I was impressed with Alexandra’s performance as an actress, which I had not seen before. Her performance was multi-faceted; defiant, vulnerable, funny and vocally, stunning. Stuart Reid was sullen, rugged, funny and charismatic; everything a romantic lead in a musical should be it would seem. Rachel John was a revelation; the programme tells me that she has performed in a number of musicals that I have seen previously in London so the chances are that I have seen her before. In this show, however, there is no missing Rachel John; she is an absolute powerhouse. Her duet with Burke was the highlight of the show for me- Alexandra’s renditions of each ballad were a triumph, but that duet absolutely stole the show.
So, as my cup of tea is teetering on the too-tepid side, I shall wrap up: the production is excellent, the cast are great and the lead(s) are phenomenal. This show is for anyone with a love of music, Whitney/Alexandra, the feel-good-factor and a great night out. Just, you know, sit on the second or third row if you don’t fancy squinting or having weepy eyes at the wrong moments… that exceptionally close proximity to the stage is much more suited to smaller theatres and smaller shows!