The question on all lips when The Bodyguard‘s stage adaptation was announced was “Can anyone fill Whitney Houston’s shoes?”
The answer is unequivocally “Yes, Heather Headley can.”
That’s not quite fair. The Tony and Grammy Award winner doesn’t so much slip on Whitney’s glamorous Choos as bring her own passionate Blahniks to the party.
Playing stalked superstar Rachel Marron, who is forced to drastically alter her lifestyle when Lloyd Owen’s terse bodyguard is hired to protect her from a homicidal fan, she brings a delicious cheekiness to the singer, an oft hidden vulnerability and the soul of a born diva.
Oh, and a grin-inducing, joy-bringing, heart-swelling voice that, when released on the back catalogue of Houston’s poptastic ballads, had me convinced me that I will always love her.
Headley is every inch the queen of the (press) night, but London stage regular Debbie Kurup runs her close as overshadowed sister Nicki, illuminating the sibling’s years of hurt and longing for recognition, and going toe to tuneful toe with Headley in some of the score’s most memorable moments. I’d happily return solely for their duet on Run To You.
Owen carefully walks the razor’s edge between dislocated professional protector and soulless robot in the title role made famous on screen by Kevin Costner, his granite-faced frown slowly melting into a smile before calcifying again as love makes way for duty.
But what of the production itself? It feels a little as though acclaimed director Thea Sharrock, taking her first crack at a big budget musical, has been given the keys to the theatrical toy cupboard and been told to have some riotous fun.
Designer Tim Hatley’s expanding, contracting, nearly back-flipping set has enough polished locations to make an estate agent jealous, while Sharrock has thrown projection, film, air bursts, platforms, flashbacks, bells, whistles and a couple of kitchen sinks at the show to ensure you know you’ve visited the West End when your evening at the Adelphi theatre comes to its fun-filled concert-like conclusion.
In truth, I could have done with a little less pizzazz, but that doesn’t matter, because when you leave it’s Houston’s timeless hits – with more key changes than an over-enthusiastic locksmith – that you will be talking about, and how Headley and Kurup made them their own. They left me so emotional and wanting to dance with somebody.