By Jin Kiyokawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterRemember the film “The Bodyguard,” the blockbuster movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner? It was turned into a musical in London, and it’s coming to Japan in September.
“And I — will always love you!”
That famous refrain from “I Will Always Love You” in Houston’s powerful and exalted voice comes instantly to mind when you hear the title “The Bodyguard,” even for those who haven’t seen it.
That’s the lasting effect of the 1992 film. It’s a love story between superstar singer Rachel Marron, who is being threatened by a stalker, and her bodyguard Frank Farmer, who devotedly executes his duty. The film’s soundtrack sold 1.8 million copies in Japan and 25 million copies worldwide. “I Will Always Love You” became the biggest hit ever for Houston, who was already extremely popular since her 1985 self-titled debut album, “Whitney Houston.”
“The Bodyguard: The Musical” is based on this film, recreating onstage various memorable scenes from screen and incorporating the songs from the film with impeccable staging, like at a concert. What’s more, the production is sprinkled with many hit tunes by Houston that the film did not use.
The musical has already toured 11 countries, including China and South Korea.
“I’ve seen the show in many different languages in different cities, and still you get laughs in the same place. And at the end of the play where they come to say goodbye, you can hear a pin drop,” said director Thea Sharrock in her London office.
The musical’s world premiere took place in November 2012 at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End, one of the world’s foremost theater hubs. Houston had passed away in February that same year.
“Sadly Whitney died six months before we came onstage. So it adds even more poignancy to be able to use all her songs. It’s like a homage to Whitney Houston,” Sharrock said.
The musical was nominated in 2013 for the Olivier Awards, the most coveted theater awards in Britain, in four categories including best new musical.
On June 15, I visited the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, England, where the musical’s touring company was performing. “Queen of the Night” played right after the opening and it was as exciting as a concert by a top-tier artist. Clad in a glitzy gold costume, the character of Rachel led a group of energetic male dancers giving a hot, sultry performance that even involved acrobatic movements. The audience’s excitement reached its peak toward the end when two of Houston’s major hits were performed.
The whole audience was standing, dancing and cheering during both the matinee and evening performances. British musical star Alexandra Burke, who played Rachel in the evening performance, excitedly thrusted a microphone toward the audience and urged people to sing along, while Jennlee Shallow, who played Rachel in the matinee, looked overcome with emotion at the enthusiastic response from the crowd and wiped away tears.
The synergy of cast and audience far exceeded what you might expect from a musical. Both Burke and Shallow appeared to be reaching beyond the role of Rachel and having a soul-level conversation with the audience as artists completely in charge of the space around them.
The musical is filled with innovative ideas to surprise the audience and make people laugh, while soothing them with about 15 timeless classics originally sung by Houston. It is a work of entertainment rich in playfulness, so getting right into the production is the best way to appreciate it.
“Will the Japanese audiences get up on their feet?” Sharrock said a little worriedly, as she is aware of the generally shy and reserved nature of the Japanese people. Perhaps we need to do away with our shyness and thoroughly relish the show so that we can fully receive the energy of the performers trained in one of theater’s heartlands.