Half gig, half musical and all theatre, The Bodyguard bursts into town for a fortnight’s residency at the Playhouse, riding shotgun on the back of the blockbuster movie.
The big difference is that what was, in the movie, a wafer thin plot of preposterous proportions, is honed down here and feels quite in keeping with the basic tenets of musical theatre.
Not to mention that the music is so much better live, even when it isn’t Whitney Houston performing it.
To be clear, Alexandra Burke rocks it, big time. She is a bit over-focussed when her male dancer’s come in for the big lift in the opening number – but in everything else, whether singing or acting, she is quite the diva and super-singing sensation Rachel Marron.
All the underlying details of the plot, which sees the global superstar threatened by a stalker in the midst of her big push for a best-music Oscar, are drawn in with the lightest detail
Thea Sharrock’s direction is deft and perceptive, driving that plot on. She uses Mark Henderson’s lighting and Tim Hatley’s design with smooth efficiency, allowing her to wear her storytelling techniques so lightly you hardly notice them – and ensuring the whole thing spins along with minimum of fuss.
The supporting cast in Rachel’s entourage all put in nicely detailed performances, notably Adam Venus as pushy manager Sy Spector. Mensah Bediako and Sion Lloyd as her existing security team, Bill and and Tony, do well to ensure that the incongruities in the plot are neatly slipped past.
But when Bill responds to the stalker threat by calling in the best bodyguard in the business, troubled Frank Farmer (Stuart Reid), you realise that the supporting cast are really only creating the scenery for the unlikely central relationship which grows between stand-off singer and her gruff bodyguard.
Melissa James has rather more presence as Rachel’s big sister Nicki, who realised early on in life that there was only room for one star in the family. James is no slouch in the singing department, either, with one of those lovely clear voices which provide an uncluttered take on whatever she is singing.
Her take on Saving All My Love brings a real frisson to her barroom scene where she sings alone and unrecognised, except by the visiting Frank. It is particularly well played out, laying the foundations for what turns out to be something of a triangle, as both sisters have their eyes on him.
It is in the big song and dance set pieces that this really makes its mark. From the fiery opener Queen of the Night, where you can literally feel the heat from the stage, via Oh Yes at the underground gig where the stalker is first seen and the Oscar ceremony One Moment in Time to the big finale I Will Always Love You, there is an audacity and thrill, with Karen Bruce’s choreography and Mike Dixon’s vocal arrangements given great licks by a constantly hardworking ensemble.
But it is in the more intimate numbers that Burke’s abilities are really noticeable. The karaoke version of I Have Nothing has a genuine warmth to it. And in a poignant family fireside take on Jesus Loves Me, you begin to understand her true power.
Melissa James and Mark Jones – playing Rachel’s ten year-old son Fletcher – are all simplicity and clarity in the opening verse. But when Burke joins in, she has the inflexions, decorations and shading of tone that can turn simplicity into a lushly orchestrated hit.
Big, thrilling and mercilessly honed, the changes in plot and emphasis might provide a bit of a disappointment for the film’s fans, but for those who want a great night out, this is where it is at.
Running time: 2 hours 25 mins (including interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 29 September – Saturday 10 October 2015
Wednesday, Saturday matinees (with Zoe Birkett in the role of Rachel Marron): 2.30pm
Tickets and information from: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-bodyguard/edinburgh-playhouse/
The Bodyguard on tour:
29 Sept – 10 Oct 2015
0844 871 3014
13 – 24 Oct 2015
Royal Concert Hall
0115 989 5555
27 Oct – 7 Nov 2015
0114 249 6000
10 – 22 Nov 2015
0844 871 3020
24 Nov 2015 – 5 Dec 2015
8 Dec 2015 – 9 Jan 2016
0844 871 3020
13 – 30 Jan 2016
0844 871 3012
15 – 26 March 2016
De Montfort Hall
0116 233 3111
16 – 27 February 2016
1 – 12 March 2016
0844 871 3022
12 – 23 April 2016
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652
26 April – 7 May 2016
0844 871 3017
10 – 21 May 2016
0844 848 2700