The UK and Ireland tour of the award-winning international smash-hit musical, “The Bodyguard The Musical”, premiered at the New Theatre Oxford yesterday (Monday, 27 November). Overall, the singing was top-notch, and the impressive production of the beloved 90s movie proved to be both a crowd-pleasing screen-to-stage musical and a delightful reminder of the film and its iconic songs.
For those not familiar with the storyline from the movie, The Bodyguard follows the story of Frank Farmer (Kevin Costner) – a former Secret Service agent turned private bodyguard – hired to protect Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston) – a famous pop singer and actress – when she becomes the target of an unknown stalker.
As Frank takes on the responsibility of keeping Rachel safe Frank and helps her navigate the threats against her life, they find themselves drawn to each other, and a complex and intense relationship develops between them, leading to a gripping and emotional climax that challenges the dynamics of their roles and ultimately defines the true meaning of protection and love.
Based on the original 1992 Oscar-nominated Warner Bros. romantic thriller movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner by Lawrence Kasdan, The Bodyguard, directed by Thea Sharrock with a book by Oscar-winning Alex Dinelaris, The Bodyguard The Musical, had its world premiere at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End and was nominated for four Olivier Awards.
It features a host of irresistible classics, including Queen of the Night, So Emotional, One Moment in Time, Saving All My Love, Run to You, I Have Nothing, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, and one of the biggest hit songs of all time – I Will Always Love You.
A sell-out 18-month UK and Ireland tour followed before the show returned to the West End at the Dominion Theatre ahead of a second sell-out tour of the UK and Ireland in 2018/19. To date, The Bodyguard The Musical has played to over 3.6 million people in 15 countries and 45 US cities in countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, China, Canada, Italy, Australia, Spain, France, the US, Austria and Japan.
Multi-platinum Australian recording artist Emily Williams played the role of Rachel Marron. No stranger to the spotlight, Emily returned to the role, having previously starred in the 2017 Australian production, which marked her theatrical debut. Emily rose to fame on Australian Idol, becoming the runner-up of the competition. Following this, she found commercial success as a member of the Australian girl group Young Divas before going solo and gaining numerous ‘Favourite Australian Female Artist’ nominations.
Ahead of the show, Emily talked about her career, playing the role of Rachel Marron on stage, and what audiences across the UK and Ireland can expect to take away from this production.
The Bodyguard is a much-loved movie, even now, over 30 years on! Were you a fan of the movie growing up?
Yes, I was a fan of the movie – who wasn’t at that time?! It’s one of the best movies ever made. If I were to have missed it, I don’t think I’d be able to sing the way I do now, to be honest with you. I don’t know many vocalists nowadays who don’t regard Whitney Houston as their go-to vocal goddess of all goddesses! She was an absolute queen, and she dominated the entire 90s. I’m so glad I was able to experience her while she was alive and see her in her prime.
You’re no stranger to the role, having previously starred in The Bodyguard The Musical in Australia. What made you want to return, and will you be approaching it differently this time around?
I think when I played the role in Australia in 2017, I was more excited to be singing the songs than understanding and connecting deeply to the character of Rachel Marron. To get to come back and dive completely into my interpretation of Rachel, I now understand her so much better. I feel like the UK and Ireland tour are going to get the best of me in this role.
Can you tell us about Rachel Marron? How would you describe her?
Rachel Marron is strong. She’s an incredible performer, a beautiful mother, and very protective of the people around her. She’s someone who thought she knew what was going on around her and was in control of everything, but comes to realise that she doesn’t have full control of certain parts of her career. That’s the moment where you see the vulnerability. That’s where you see her crash and explore parts of herself that she wouldn’t show the public.
You rose to fame on Australian Idol and subsequently became part of the acclaimed girl group Young Divas. How does your experience as a successful songstress influence your interpretation of the role of Rachel Marron – are there any parallels?
There are heaps of parallels! The first song I ever recorded after the finale of Australian Idol was ‘I Will Always Love You’, but the thing that really connects me and Rachel Marron is the fact that I’ve been on stages like her. I understand the fans and the stalkers that can come with being part of the industry.
I understand the stardom, with people and cameras everywhere, so I feel like I understand her as a person. I would say another key connection is that we’re both mothers, so I am able to draw from personal experiences and throw them into her character.
During the rehearsals, I came to realise that my interpretation of Rachel Marron is rooted in realism because this is my life. You must live through those years to be able to stand in these shoes. I know there have been a lot of Rachel’s before me, but I feel that if you haven’t experienced a bit of what is going on within the industry, you won’t know how to handle this role.
Entering the industry through a reality competition can be tough. How did you find it? Did you receive any guidance from people within the industry when you started?
I’m kind of lucky because I have a famous sister (Lavinia Williams), so I was the younger sibling watching my sister, who had been in the industry for a very long time. At the age of 13, I opened for Tina Turner alongside her because her group, Ma-V-Elle, were so big – they were the first Polynesian group in New Zealand to break out, so they were opening for a lot of amazing people. I met a lot of famous people while I was still a young girl, so I was exposed to the industry early on.
The older I got, the more knowledge I gained about being on the scene, with the biggest guidance being my sister. It was Lavinia who told me to go and audition for Australian Idol. I was happy just being a normal forklift-driving mum, but I went, and the rest is history.
Given the life experience you now have, what piece of advice do you wish you could have given your younger self ahead of being propelled to stardom?
Be yourself. I know that’s so cliché. But back when I started in the industry, it was hard to be yourself. This current generation is allowed to be authentic and express themselves, but back then, you had to be a certain way. I just wish I had told myself that ‘you are enough’ and allowed myself to be whatever I wanted to be.
I restricted myself to a certain extent. I needed to know my place in the world. I was so lost, feeling like I was living under someone else’s shadow, so I didn’t know how to be myself or find who I was – I used to look at others and copy them without having any self-identity.
I had the typical Christian upbringing, which was very strict – can’t watch TV, can’t go outside and play with other kids. You had to sit at home, read the bible and sing gospel songs. I started to notice that we weren’t normal compared to the other kids. I think that’s why I eventually rebelled.
The Bodyguard features an incredible soundtrack, with hits made famous by Whitney Houston. Do you have a favourite number to perform?
Honestly, I like singing ‘The Greatest Love of All’, because when I sit down and sing it, it’s so cliché – but it’s so honest to me. The song gets me the most because it’s who I am on the inside, and it’s nice to be able to express that honestly to the people listening. There are so many other songs in the show that are full-out and solid, but with this one, you have to really come down into yourself and let the audience see a moment of truth.
The songs in the show require powerhouse vocals night after night! How do you vocally prepare for this? Do you have methods you use to sustain your vocal health?
Sleep is key. It has to be your best friend; it has to be your husband. You must love sleep! In all honesty, when you are playing this kind of role and the strain that it has on your vocals, you must rest. It’s not that you can’t go out and have a drink; you can, but you need to ask yourself if your voice would hold up. If the last song you’re singing night after night is ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ in the same key as the original, then no, don’t go there!
What do you hope audiences across the UK and Ireland will take away from this production of The Bodyguard The Musical?
I want audiences to leave knowing that it was one of the best shows they’ve ever seen. I want them to feel every single emotion that we’re giving on the stage from beginning to end and then celebrate with me in the finale. I want them to feel like they’ve been taken on a journey. For anyone who has never seen the show before, it is definitely a show you don’t want to miss; it should be on your bucket list!
Emily was joined by Emmerdale and Hollyoaks star Ayden Callaghan as Frank Farmer and Emily-Mae as Nicki Marron – Rachel Marron’s sister.
Ayden Callaghan is best known for his roles as Miles De Souza in Emmerdale and fan favourite Joe Roscoe in Hollyoaks. Additional television credits include Doctors, Eastenders, Bad Education, Casualty and The Bill. His stage credits include the roles of Dr Treves in The Elephant Man at The Trafalgar Studios, Malcolm in Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce on UK Tour, directed by Peter Hall, and Dean Snaith in Ayckbourn’s If I Were You on UK Tour.
Emily-Mae’s theatre credits include Disney’s Frozen and City of Angels, both in the West End, Are You as Nervous as I Am? and Brooklyn the Musical at Greenwich Theatre, the National Tour of Paul Kerryson’s Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors at Storyhouse, Chester and The Producers at the Royal Exchange.
The cast was completed by John Macaulay as Bill Devaney, Graham Elwell as Tony, James Groom as Sy Spector, Marios Nicolaides as Stalker and Phil Atkinson as Ray Court, Alexandros Beshonges, Kayne Gordon, Jack Hardwick, James-Lee Harris, Kalisha Johnson, Samantha Mbolekwa, Liam Morris, Abbie Quinnen, Charlotte Scally, Yiota Theo and Marco Venturini.
Kaylen Luke played the role of Fletcher, Rachel Marron’s son. Making his theatre debut this year in The Bodyguard The Musical, Kaylen undeniably captured the hearts of the audience, establishing himself as one to watch.
While it’s never possible to fully emulate the cinematic effect of a movie on stage, the combination of Tim Hatley’s simple and well-designed sets, Mark Henderson’s lighting effects and Duncan McLean’s stunning videos definitely added a much-needed charm to the performance.
The Bodyguard The Musical is on at New Theatre Oxford until Saturday, 02 December 2023.