CD Review: The Bodyguard – The Musical (World Premiere Cast Recording)


“Tell me what does it mean?” 
One of the more surprising recent returnees to the West End was The Bodyguard – The Musical – having played out about a year and a half at the Adelphi and then launching a subsequent UK tour, our appetite seemed sated. But where there’s an empty theatre, there’s a commercial hit to be planted therein and it arrived back in the capital at the Dominion, with Beverley Knight heading up the cast and it’s a cracker.
But as the production set out on its UK tour, that was the point at which First Night Records decided to release the world premiere cast recording of the show, meaning that it was X-Factor star Alexandra Burke who got to lay her vocals on this score of classic Whitney Houston songs and be recorded for posterity. Now I can’t lie, I enjoyed the show with Burke, with the help of a couple of bottles of wine it’s an ideal bit of Friday fun but on disc, it’s not quite the same story. 
Part of the problem – for me at least – lies in the familiarity of the score and the fact that very little is done to the majority of the songs. So the comparison between whoever is taking on the role of Rachel Marron is all the more direct with Whitney and when you’re dealing with the soundtrack of my youth in songs like ‘How Will I Know’, ‘So Emotional’ and ‘Queen of the Night’, you’d better do ‘em justice. But it doesn’t take more than 15 seconds before Burke starts to oversing, making the music ‘her own’ in the parlance de nos jours, and largely falling flat in the process. 
Houston may have become notorious for vocal embellishments, especially in her later live performances, but if you listen to the recordings, there’s a distinct purity that comes across in all parts of her register that is part of the reason why she was the success she was. Here though, you struggle to find a note Burke sustains for more than a couple of seconds, you struggle to hear her lower register as she lacks any real power there, something cruelly exposed in ‘I Have Nothing’ which lacks power even though (or maybe because) it has been transposed to a lower key. 
The saving grace of this record turns out to be Melissa James’ performance as Nicki, Rachel’s sister, as her takes on ‘Saving All My Love For You’ and ‘All At Once’ are the real deal, both outstandingly done and oozing the quality that Burke seems to be missing. And as the album closes with the iconic ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, her charmless ‘come ons’ and ‘I wanna see your hands up’ stick out like a sore thumb. Definitely a show to be experienced live with Beverley Knight rather than listened to here – you might as well just put Whitney’s greatest hits on instead.

Review: Altar Boyz, Greenwich Theatre

“Jesus called me on his cellphone”

A huge off-Broadway hit, Altar Boyz has taken its time to cross the pond but now Paul Taylor-Mills’ production has settled into Greenwich Theatre for a short run to help us cast off our sins. Hailing from small-town Ohio, the Altar Boyz are a Christian boyband who have reached the end of their ‘Raise the Praise’ tour and have one last concert in which to save as many souls as possible through the gift of their cheesy pop moves, confessional anecdotes and the divine technology of their ‘soul sensor’.

It would be easy to suggest that the music is blandly forgettable, the book laboured rather than funny as it just trifles with the notion of skewering this take on religion instead of actually lampooning it (Kevin Del Aguila, Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker all share credit for book, music and lyrics). And there’s truth in both propositions, but the strength of Steven Dexter’s direction and some highly astute work by casting director Will Burton means that the performance level elevates the material to a higher plane.

The superb comic touches that Jonny Fines brings to virtually all of Mark’s movements as he battles with his feelings; the sheer commitment of Faisal Khodabukus’ Latin lothario Juan who just can’t turn his natural charm off and flirts outrageously with most of the audience at one point or another; Liam Doyle’s steadying presence as the group’s de facto leader Matthew; Alex Jordan Mills’ lyrical Jew; and the Jason Stackhouse of the group, Jamie-Ray Hartshorne’s ab-tastic Luke (who can lay hands on me any day of the week, not just Sunday) whose goofiness is more than mitigated for with some hugely impressive dance moves (choreographed by Ewan Jones).

Between them, these five likely lads ensure that the pace of the show never dips too much amidst songs that go on a touch too long too often and a script that just doesn’t possess enough killer lines. That they manage to pull out as much humour as they do is testament to their skill as nurtured here by Dexter and consequently Altar Boyz emerges as a lively, if undemanding, evening of theatre.

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 18th October
Photo: Claire Bilyard