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The international, award-winning smash-hit musical is back!
This blockbusting West End musical is of course based on the similarly blockbusting 1990s Hollywood movie starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.
When ex-secret service agent Frank Farmer is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker, sparks soon begin to fly between the pair. Each expects to hold the whip-hand in the relationship; neither expects to fall in love...
Featuring classic numbers One Moment In Time, I Wanna Dance With Somebody and the legendary I Will Always Love You, the show received mixed reviews from the critics when it opened in 2012, but has since proved to be a real winner with its audiences.
Pussycat Doll Melody Thornton stars as Rachel.
The stage musical version of hit Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner movie The Bodyguard is stopping off in Birmingham for Christmas. Playing the part of Rachel Marron - the character made famous by Houston in the 1992 film - is Australian singer Emily Williams, who first played the role six years ago. What’s On recently caught up with her to find out more...
This Christmas, singer & actress Emily Williams takes on the role of Rachel Marron in blockbuster musical The Bodyguard at Birmingham theatre The Alexandra.
It’s the second time the New Zealand-born performer has played the lead part in the show, which is based on the famous 1992 movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner.
Rachel Marron is a superstar singer at the height of her fame. But when she begins receiving death threats from a sinister stalker, her manager hires former secret-service agent Frank Farmer as a bodyguard to keep her and her young son safe.
The story provides an insight into the sometimes scary world of stardom, and Emily, who shot to fame as runner-up on television talent show Australian Idol, says she can very much relate to that fear. Having been part of successful Australian all-girl group Young Divas, and then building a solo career, she knows only too well what it’s like to be in the spotlight.
“I’ve gone through similar experiences and situations as Rachel in the show,” says Emily, who first played the part back in 2017. “So I can now identify why she acts the way she does, how these scenarios would come up, and why she gets so frustrated all the time.
“I think there’s more understanding of the character than I had seven years ago. I now understand the idea of having so many security guards around. And the idea that you’ve had some obsessed fans that have sent you some really interesting things - you have to open up that fan mail.
“There have been shows when it’s actually been a bit scary on stage because you know there are some really strange people out there who love you to the point of no return. I’ve been through all of that, and I understand a bit about it.”
While Emily is quick to point out that she has never received death threats like those sent to her character, she has sometimes needed bodyguards.
“I do now understand the idea of singing at big shows and having all that security and having people beside you 24/7. As soon as you get onsite, these security guards won’t let you out of their sight. Even when you’re in the dressing room, there are two or three standing outside.
“So I do understand that side of it, and I can understand the frustration of Rachel, where she thinks she knows what’s going on but she actually doesn’t safety-wise. So to know and to have experienced some of the things she’s gone through has helped me understand her more.
“I think the UK has got the best version of me playing Rachel. Back in 2017 when I played her, I was so excited to sing those songs that I hadn’t really connected with the character as much as I do today.”
But, says Emily, being in the public eye is part of the experience of being a performer.
“When I found my own fame, I realised this is something you can’t escape from, so either you learn to deal with it or you drown. You sink or you swim.
“Rachel is very sharp but yet very vulnerable in certain parts of the show. When you first meet her, you don’t realise that - but then, as you watch, you begin to see these vulnerable parts of her. My favourite part of playing her is showing people how vulnerable she really is. She’s this absolute goddess of a superstar, but there’s more to her than just that.”
The part of bodyguard Frank is played by Ayden Callaghan, who’s best known for playing Miles De Souza in Emmerdale and Joe Roscoe in Hollyoaks.
Emily says Rachel’s behaviour towards Frank is probably her least attractive quality.
“What I don’t like about her is probably the way she treats Frank in the beginning; it’s pretty full-on.”
Emily first discovered the film as a teenager but was a fan of Whitney Houston long before that.
“I started singing at a young age and was listening to Whitney’s songs. The music from this film is timeless.”
And she loves being able to perform hits such as I Will Always Love You, Queen Of The Night, I Have Nothing, The Greatest Love Of All and How Will I Know.
“Probably the biggest challenge of the role is having to sing those difficult high-pitched songs every night - but at the same time, I’m so grateful to be singing those songs because not everybody can pull that off. You need a lot of sleep. You have to have the eight hours - a lot of rest, honey! - and don’t talk when you don’t need to.
“There are so many highlights of the show, but mine would probably be the end, when I sing I Will Always Love You. That’s always a moment, and I feel like if I don’t get that moment right, then I definitely haven’t done my job. The audience have been waiting for that moment, so I have to nail it.”
The Alexandra performances will be the first time Emily has visited Birmingham - and she is particularly looking forward to seeing it under the Christmas lights.
“It excites me to perform around Christmas. I know absolutely nothing about Birmingham, so I’m really looking forward to going there. I think a lot of the cast and crew members are really excited to show me around; they say it’s a beautiful place.”
And she is understandably keen for Birmingham theatre-goers to take a night off from pantomime and check out The Bodyguard.
“I hope everyone just really enjoys themselves. I want them to understand the story and what it’s all about. It’s such an incredible show. I feel like everyone will walk away either crying or blown away by how great it is.”
by Diane Parkes
Ex-Pussycat Dolls singer Melody Thornton talks about playing Rachel Marron in the UK tour of The Bodyguard...
The film of The Bodyguard recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Were you a fan of the movie growing up, Melody, and did you rewatch it after being cast?
You know, strangely, I never watched the film when I was a kid! Okay, this is the honest truth - I watched the film for the first time when I knew I was doing The Bodyguard musical in China. I’d never seen the film, but the soundtrack was giving me life throughout my entire childhood. I love the movie now; I’ve seen it a million times!
I had a ticket for a special screening of The Bodyguard for the 30th anniversary. I went to the movie theatre on my own and was so excited. Of course, only this would happen to me and a room full of Whitney Houston enthusiasts - the film starts playing… and it was a cartoon! The venue had messed up and were no longer able to show the film. People wanted to cry, including myself!
Can you briefly summarise the plot and tell us about your character - Rachel Marron. How would you describe her?
Rachel is a popstar/actress who is at the height of her career. She is definitely a diva, but kind of aloof and unaware of some of the issues that are going on behind the scenes. When someone starts sending letters and stealing clothes from her home and dressing room, a bodyguard is sent in to protect her.
Rachel is really focused on her son and trying to create the best life for him. She’s a single mother who is extremely high-functioning, so misses all the signs that something is wrong - but her team is also hiding from her the fact that she has a stalker!
Most people will know you from girl group The Pussycat Dolls. How does your experience as a songstress influence the way you play Rachel? Are there any parallels?
It’s just you doing the best job that you can, and the job of a popstar is a full-time, all-energy position. Everything you do is for that job. So I can relate to the character in that way. There are also certainly things going on behind the scenes that your team aren’t going to bring up to you. But I would hope someone would have let me know if I’d had a stalker!
I’ve definitely experienced some enthusiastic fans, who would forget that we were also people and would show up in Los Angeles and find us on the street. I had to hide in a restaurant one time for a couple of hours until security came to get me.
You were the youngest member of The Pussycat Dolls. What was that like for you? Did you receive any guidance from people within the industry?
In the early noughties, it was very much sink or swim. I’m not resentful in any way for that, because I now have a structure that works for me that I created for myself. Of course, there were lovely people to jump in and say ‘You might want to try it this way or that way,’ but in the early noughties it was a lot of people minding their own business. However, there are so many people that I owe for my being here, and I’m grateful to them to this day.
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 global stardom?
I’d say that some of the fears you created in your head around interacting with other people are just projections. People aren’t as scary as you think. I was very avoidant of others, trying just to do my job and not create any relationships, when in actuality networking and relationships are what helps to propel your career. They can’t get a feel for you if you don’t put yourself out there!
I always try and forgive myself, because there are things you don’t know, so you have to accept that if you’d known better, you’d have done better.
You’re no stranger to the role of Rachel, having previously starred in The Bodyguard abroad. What made you want to return?
I loved the show. I was jubilant doing it! I want the challenge. I’m really enjoying revisiting the show. Whitney Houston is also very dear to me, and what she means to Black America. What she went through as a black girl singing pop music was brave. She battled a lot of preconceived notions in the industry, and what she did for me was help to create a lane for the little black girl in the pop group. She is important to me in that respect, so any time I have the opportunity to sing Whitney’s hits, I’m going to do it.
The Bodyguard features an incredible soundtrack. Do you have a favourite number you perform?
My favourite to perform is Queen Of The Night, but my favourite song is All The Man That I Need. I watch Whitney’s live performances, because I’m always looking for what I call ‘bail outs’ - moments in the song that we know commercially to be sung a certain way, and then how she does them live. She was such a master. She would find ways to hit a note, working around the difficulty. In her performances of All The Man That I Need, I think she’s singing to God, as she grew up in the church. If you listen to the song, to me that’s what she’s saying: He’s all the man that she needs.
The songs in the show require powerhouse vocals night after night. How do you prepare for this?
I actually taught myself to sing listening to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, and since being in the industry and working with different vocal coaches, I’ve learnt how to take a lot of pressure off my voice. For me, it’s about sustainability, to sing night after night. I want it to be the best quality every night, which is a challenge that I’m working on. I tested it out recently on the Masked Singer Australia, which went really well.
When it comes to vocal hygiene, I make sure to clean my nose every night with a nasal wash. Something I learnt from my time in China is to drink cold water when you’re done singing, to bring down any swelling. We’re all so programmed to drink hot!
What do you hope audiences across the UK will take away from this production?
I look forward to, hopefully, inspiring some kids to want to work on stage. The beautiful thing about theatre is that it’s live. I’m grateful to be the age that I am and to have begun at the age that I did, before people were relying on autotune. This sounds crazy, but what I look forward to are the mistakes, because it’s real. I think it’s beautiful to see a performer pick up the pieces and keep going if something goes wrong. I love that, because it gives me room to just perform as an actress and sing as a singer.
The Bodyguard shows at the The Alexandra, Birmingham, from Monday 4 to Saturday 30 December
There is no gentle introduction to hit musical The Bodyguard. There are gunshots and a scuffle as the hero of the show, the brooding Frank Farmer, impressively portrayed by Ayden Callaghan, arrives on stage.
Frank is the best bodyguard money can buy and has been hired to protect a diva superstar, Rachel Marron, and her family. Rachel doesn’t believe she needs protecting and resents the intrusion. Frank, for his part, doesn’t want to protect a spoilt and uncooperative prima donna!
Melody Thornton of Pussycat Dolls fame plays Rachel - a role made famous in the original 1992 film by the late Whitney Houston. She is quite simply sensational, nailing every one of Whitney’s songs, and doing so with an ever-greater intensity as the show progresses. Her dancing and acting are every bit as impressive as her singing.
Emily-Mae Walker, who plays Rachel’s long-suffering sister, Nicki, deserves equal credit. Her powerful solos and harmonies with Thornton are simply breathtaking, as Nicki gives voice to her desire to find fame and love, despite having to live in the shadow of her superstar sibling.
Marios Nicolaides as Rachel’s stalker is at times palpably frightening and provides some real edge-of-the-seat moments. Eventually, Rachel realises that she really is in danger and needs protection. Despite Frank’s reluctance to mix his professional life with his personal, his relationship with the singer eventually blossoms romantically...
As with the film, the much-loved songs made famous by Whitney are the real stars of the show: One Moment In Time, Saving All My Love, I Have Nothing, Run To You, Greatest Love Of All, and of course the classic I Will Always Love You. And with first-class performances from the entire cast, spectacular choreography, high-energy singing & dancing, and fabulous costumes and sets to further recommend the show, there’s little wonder it continues to draw big audiences wherever it plays.
If you loved the film, you will undoubtedly enjoy this feelgood musical. Last night’s standing ovation, and the audience’s unbridled enthusiasm when invited to join in the encore - a performance of I Wanna Dance With Somebody - was a joy to behold. It’s reasonable to assume plenty of audience members were happily belting out the show’s hit songs on the way home!
Reviewed by Sue Hull at Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, where it runs until Saturday (13 May). It visits Birmingham at the end of the year, showing at The Alexandra from Monday 4 to Saturday 30 December.
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