[Review] The Bodyguard: The Musical at Oxford’s New Theatre

By Jessica Durston - 1 December 2023

Arts and CultureOpinion and Features

Swindon Link columnist Jessica Durston attends the press night for The Bodyguard: The Musical at the New Theatre in Oxford.

The atmosphere was fizzing this week during the opening night of The Bodyguard at the New Theatre. Gold balloons and streamers lined the piano bar downstairs and the excitement amongst the hordes of audience members was palpable.

It was quite exciting attending this particular press night as I had no prior knowledge of The Bodyguard film, on entry. Having no expectations and going into the show blind meant I could really immerse myself within the story, and enjoy the dramatic twists and turns of the plot. 

So now having seen the show, I can tell you the story follows superstar Rachel Marron, a diva in the prime of her career who starts receiving threatening letters from a stalker. A bodyguard (Frank Farmer) is hired to look after Rachel, her sister Nicki, and her son Fletcher. She is constantly at odds with him and the pair clash with one another at first. Rachel and her management team make it difficult for Frank to do his job but he sticks with his role as he feels he has a duty to protect the star and her little family. 

The pair get to know one another better and their relationship develops, but at the same time, Rachel’s stalker’s psychotic urges grow stronger. The question is will Frank’s determination and protective instincts be enough to keep Rachel and those she loves safe?

Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay) and Alexander Dinelaris (book) have worked well together to cover the whole ‘Bodyguard’ story in a fast-paced and engaging way, with plentiful humour injections to break up the dramatic narrative. 

After doing a little research into the film, I found the 31-year-old story had been kept largely the same, but brought up to date with the use of digital screens, iPhones, and mentions of instagram. There were also clever insertions of pre-recorded video footage throughout, designed by Duncan McLean. 

So let's move on to discuss the musical’s cast shall we?

Australian Idol star Emily Williams took on the main role of Rachel Marron, which Whitney Houston made famous in the film. Her vocal runs took audience members on an aural rollercoaster and she hit every note perfectly. She took to this role like a duck to water, and proves that she can act and dance, as well as sing.

I enjoyed the fact that the big ballads were adjusted to suit her voice and singing style, and that the show did not feel like Whitney Houston karaoke night. Emily must have really worked hard during her rehearsals and training for this musical, as she perfects an American accent and lilts softly, slightly invoking Whitney’s own smooth voice even when not singing. 

Similarly, Emily-Mae, who played Rachel’s sister Nicki, was also vocally flawless. Both these leading ladies’ voices melded beautifully. They are both obviously very accomplished performers, and it did not surprise me to see in the show’s programme that Emily-Mae was also able to understudy for the lead role herself. 

Taking on Kevin Costner’s role in the film - bodyguard Frank Farmer - was Ayden Callaghan. With experience in soaps (Emmerdale and Hollyoaks), he proved that his acting chops transfer perfectly onto the theatre stage. He embodied the masculine but sensitive and caring personality of Frank, and brought the same stubborn and headstrong energy to match his onstage rival-to-lover, Rachel Marron. 

Marios Nicolaides played Rachel’s stalker and although he had minimal lines, he oozed evil, and his body language was perfectly threatening. The musical’s directors (Frank Thompson & Jason Capewell) and sound (Richard Brooker) and lighting (Mark Henderson) designers worked well together to create a sense of dread and drama, during the scenes that Rachel’s stalker appears in. 

I also feel that I must spotlight little 9-year-old Kaylen Luke who played Rachel’s son Fletcher in this opening night performance. He stole every scene he was in, and to see such a young boy sing, dance, and own the stage with the amount of confidence he has, was marvellous. 

All the cast were integral in creating the bustling backstage atmosphere, and the big team constantly surrounding leading lady Rachel Marron. 

In addition, the scene changes were smooth, and elaborate set pieces (designed by Tim Hatley) created a great sense of place for the different settings. During the scenes in the country house that Rachel, Frank, Nicki, and Fletcher escape to, the detailed cabin interior backdrop really produced that ‘deep woods’ feel. 

The larger set pieces appeared to glide on and off stage effortlessly, allowing the cast members and scene-setting props to be slid around, and pulled in or out of focus at any given moment. 

Tim Hatley was also behind the costume design. Rachel’s costume was made up of sparkling and glamorous performance gowns and casual jumper and jeans combinations, which perfectly showed the two sides of her personality. She appears as both the world-famous diva who is at home on the stage, and the everyday human; the loving mother who wants to spend time with her son and forget about the world outside. 

The casual costume choices make the players more relatable and help to immerse the audience in the dramatic narrative and create verisimilitude. 

Moreover, the soundtrack is fantastic as it consists of a number of powerhouse Whitney Houston hits. The performances of these beloved tracks from Emily Williams and Emily-Mae were goosebump-inducing. Their vocals teamed with the live band really fill the room, and give you chills. 

It’s hard to choose stand out numbers as Emily and Emily-Mae were both incredible throughout the production. I would say, however, that their duet of the track ‘Run To You’ was something very special. Emily Williams also gave it everything she had when performing the iconic ‘I Will Always Love You’, and ‘I Have Nothing.’ A further memorable track for me personally was the disco classic ‘I’m Every Woman.’ The choreography, glitzy showgirl dresses and colourful lighting and backdrop helped to make this number still stick out in my mind days after.

The music and vocals teamed with Karen Bruce’s choreography, and the lighting design from Mark Henderson, made for a show stopping spectacle. Audience members are also treated to pyrotechnics throughout some of the bigger numbers.

Additionally, the modern dance routines brought the pop arena stage environment to the historic theatre. You felt like you were live at the O2 watching a diva at her sell-out concert of the year. There is even a chance for the audience to stand and join in the party later on in the show. 

This fabulous musical is showing at Oxford’s New Theatre until Saturday 2 December, and then will be touring other venues around the UK. Grab tickets while you can!

More information and tickets can be found at https://www.thebodyguardmusical.com/ 

More information about the New Theatre and its upcoming events can be found on its website at https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-theatre-oxford/

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