The Bodyguard

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Over the last few years there have been a spate of Hollywood blockbusters that have been given the West End / Broadway treatment. Some have made little impact whilst others have become huge! The Bodyguard: The Musical, unquestionably falls into the successful camp. It opened in the West End in 2012, and has since toured the UK on numerous occasions as well as several international tours.

Now the pop musical extravaganza arrives in Manchester, as the Palace Theatre’s big production for the festive period, bringing with it the glitz, glamour, and some absolute classic tunes.

Following the plot of the 1992 Hollywood film, music megastar Rachel Marron (Alexandra Burke) has attracted the unwelcome attention of a deranged stalker: he has stolen one of her dresses, as well as sent her numerous death threats. Marron’s worried manager Bill Devaney (Neil Reidman), seeks out former secret service agent Frank Farmer (Ben Lewis) to be part of Rachel’s protection team.

The spoilt singer and her bodyguard soon clash, as Rachel is not happy with Frank’s over cautious approach, as well as the day-to-day impact he is having on her life. In addition, Farmer is less than impressed with his new clients ‘diva’ like attitude.

For Farmer the job isn’t just about protecting Rachel, but her family as well, which includes Rachel’s sister, Nicki (Emmy Willow), who develops feelings for Farmer. However, following an incident at a nightclub concert where Farmer protects Rachel from an unruly class, the two begin to fall for each other. As the romance blossoms between the the two, the threat intensifies to Rachel and her family, can Farmer maintain a relationship and stay sharp enough in order to catch the deranged stalker?

The undoubted star of the show is Alexandra Burke, she is without a doubt is the headline act and heart of this performance and quite rightly so. She has the star quality needed for the role and the voice to match. She certainly does justice to crowd favourites Queen of the Night and One Moment in Time giving an outstanding performance.

It’s not just Burke who deserves plaudits, equally impressive is Emmy Willow, who also has a tremendous voice. She absolutely nails Saving All My Love for You and duet with Burke on I have Nothing is beautiful. Willow brings a warmth and vulnerability to the overshadowed Nicki.

Ben Lewis is solid as Farmer, a believable reluctant action hero, and he also gives a great comedic version of I Will Always Love You.  There is an undoubted chemistry between him and Burke, however the romantic element of the story seems rushed, with both let down by some some clunky dialogue.

The ensemble cast work their socks off throughout, with some fantastic choreographed routines, whilst one of the biggest cheers of the night came with the introduction of the show’s villain, the stalker (Phil Atkinson), complete with a bare chest and abs you could grate cheese on (during the interval I heard one lady say, “he can stalk me any time”, judging audience reactions, stalking is ok if it’s done by a hunk!)

This production, as you would expect, has some high-end production values, pyrotechnics, dry ice, an ever-changing stage, and some gorgeous costumes, from tailored suits to glamourous dresses adding to the glitz and razzmatazz, creating the world of this global superstar.

The finale is of course a spine-tingling rendition of I will Always Love You, which is almost ruined by a giant projected image of our Bodyguard hero, it’s corny and as cheesy as a large pan of fondue, and an unwelcome distraction for the shows big closing moment.

There is of course time for one more feel good moment, as the entire cast nail a fun rendition of I wanna Dance with Somebody which had everybody up on their feet and dancing in the isles.

This is escapism theatre at its finest and the perfect way to forget your trouble for a few hours and get away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas, a decent excuse (like you need one) to have sing and dance.

The Bodyguard The Musical is at the Palace Theatre until the 4th January. Tickets can be found here.

Sister Act, The Palace Theatre, Manchester

Returning to Manchester after her triumphant spell in the Bodyguard, Alexandra Burke proves this diva is here to stay as she delivers all the sass and attitude that makes Deloris Van Cartier such a loveable and unforgettable character.

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Directed and Choreographed by Strictly legend Craig Revel Horwood, Sister Act tells the story of wannabee singer Deloris who sees a little too much during a late night discussion between her married boyfriend Curtis (Aaron Lee Lambert) and his no good cronies, one of which he believes has ratted him to the cops. Deloris flees for her own safety and finds sanctuary in the local Convent under the instruction of local cop and former school friend Eddie (Jon Robyns). Life as a Nun is a million miles from her usual liquor swilling, cigarette smoking, good time gal days but that irrepressible Deloris spirit soon has chance to shine when she’s given the opportunity to work with the choir of Nuns who currently sound like a cat’s chorus.

Burke is perfect in the role of Van Cartier, with just the right amount of sass and diva attitude she also has a lot of fun with this role and her comedic side is given the opportunity to shine, add to it that voice and wow, we have our star!

Burke is complemented by a strong cast; the Nuns really do take this production to the next level, each of their scenes is full of joy and every actress gives their absolute all. Notable performances come from Karen Mann as Mother Superior whose stern guidance despite frustration after frustration eventually develops into a solid bond, and the fabulous Sarah Goggin whose is a joy to watch as Sister Mary Robert, gaining in confidence with more than a little guidance from her new found sister. Jon Robyns makes for a great Eddie and you’re desperately willing him and Deloris to get together pretty much from the start of the show.

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The choreography is fun and flirty and further adds to the laughs this production provides, Matthew Wrights set and costume design works well transporting us from 1970’s nightclub to quiet Convent with ease. The one thing that distracted me a little during this production was the use of actor-musicians, whilst this works wonderfully for some shows for me I wanted my Nuns giving it their all for the fabulous choreography rather than being distracted from their booty shaking by playing the trumpet, but that comes down to personal taste and that being said everyone on stage absolutely excelled at both.

Sister Act is fun and totally fabulous; Burke’s voice is big, bold and beautiful, a heavenly production with bucket loads of feel good factor!

On at the Palace until Saturday 3rd September

Tickets available here http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/sister-act/