by Lynn on February 16, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Based on the film.
Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Choreography by Karen Bruce
Set and costumes by Tim Hatley
Lighting by Mark Henderson
Visual Design by Duncan McLean
Sound by Richard Brooker
Music director, Tom Gearing.
Cast: Alex Andreas
Neil Ditt
Glen Fox
Charles Hagerty
Mark Holden
Rachel John
Beverley Knight
Jaden Oshenye
Stuart Reid
Matthew Stathers

A pop musical based on the movie of the same name, with all the bells and whistles you expect from a raucous pop concert, in which acting generally is secondary. Director Thea Sharrock has a fine sense of the theatrical and how to jolt the audience out of its seats in the scary bits.

The Story. Rachel Marron is a huge pop star. Together with her singer/songwriter sister, Nicki, they are nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in a Movie. But Rachel has an admirer who is stalking her. He leaves creepy notes in her dressing room and no one knows how he gets backstage to do it since security is tight. And he stole a red sequined dress as well. Enter Frank Farmer, the bodyguard. Frank is the stiff, sullen, silent type and he wants no part of this pampered, bossy pop star. Until he learns that she has a 10 year old son named Fletcher. Then he takes the job. He knows The Stalker poses a serious threat to Rachel.

Rachel’s sister Nicki sings in a little club in an effort to get out from under Rachel’s shadow. It has not been easy. At every turn Rachel takes the spotlight, fame, and even Frank. Nicki is sweet on Frank but Rachel is needy and soon Frank softens. But The Stalker is getting bolder and even violent. Can Frank stop him?

The Production. Director Thea Sharrock has done a lot of impressive stage work in London. The Bodyguard is her first musical and it too is impressive. She has a solid sense of the use of dazzle and downbeat. The production opens with flashes of Mark Henderson’s light that bombards the audience, and a blast of a drumbeat that jolts you out of your seat, as if to say, “Hang on. You’re going for a fierce ride.”

Because so much of the production is in fact Rachel singing in her concerts or recording, a chunk of it is presented as a full-on concert with all manner of lights revolving, rotating, etc. and disco balls glittering above. The songs of the film are repeated in the stage musical: “How Will I Know”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, “I Will Always Love You.” etc. As Rachel, Beverley Knight—a celebrated London soul singer in her own right—has a powerful voice and pops those high notes with ease. Alas she is not so accomplished as an actress.

Where Sharrock really shines is establishing the present menace of The Stalker (no-name for this guy, just the title—The Stalker.) A flash of stark white light and a thud of drums reveals a man wearing workout gear (it seems) an open shirt revealing a ripped body, his face is menacing and he holds a long, dangerous looking knife. We just know he doesn’t want to be best friends with Rachel. His appearance is always sudden and gripping.

Sharock is masterful in creating the trick of catching The Stalker. At one point The Stalker takes out his gun and points it at the audience. A red laser beam of light shines across the audience as they squirm when the beam is in their sights. In the Academy Award scene when Rachel is singing her song we are primed to expect the worst, when The Stalker will do his deed. What is supposed to happen is that we see a laser beam of light inching up Rachel’s gown. The Stalker! We look for him. Frank Farmer jumps on stage ready and watching to get him. Except that on opening night there was no red laser beam inching up Rachel’s gown. Either it was cut, which is incredible to believe, or there was a malfunction which is more like it, but still incredible. Frank still jumped out, but really there is no reason if he and we don’t see the laser beam. Please fix that for the next performance.

Stuart Reid as Frank Farmer, is properly stoical and stony faced. He doesn’t give anything away. Sharrock keeps that moment from the film when Frank sweeps up Rachel in his strong arms to save her from frenzied fans—a bit cheesy but part of the whole glitzy package.

The best of the lot is Rachel John as Nicki Marron, Rachel’s supposedly over-shadowed sister. Ms. John is a strong, expressive singer and a very good actress. This makes the whole relationship between the sisters a bit skewed. In the story it’s Rachel who out shines her sister Nicki. In the production it’s Rachel Johns who outshines Beverley Knight.

Comment. While I saw The Bodyguard in London two years ago I won’t, don’t compare them because it’s just silly to do so. One takes each production on its own. I have concerns with Beverley Knight’s acting, which is not strong. Her singing is fine. On the whole The Bodyguard is a fast ride, a dazzling light-show, a pulsing pop concert and a show that occasionally scares you out of your seat. Alexander Dinelaris’s book is superficial and a bit cartoonish. It’s all of a piece to provide a not too challenging, fun night in the theatre.

David Mirvish presents the Michael Harrison and David Ian (and a lot of other people) production:

Opened: Feb. 15, 2017.
Closes: April 9, 2017.
Cast: 10; 8 men, 2 women (and 15 dancers and singers).
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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