Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 26th June,2019
Never having watched the Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner film, I come to Alexander Dinelaris’s stage adaptation of Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay without expectations – other than I expect to know the songs (the score is Houston’s back catalogue). But will the whole enterprise be nothing more than a glorified, glamourised jukebox musical?
Short answer: yes.
Longer answer: yes, it is.
Rachel Marron is a diva at the top of her game, and as stroppy a Queen of the Night as her namesake in The Magic Flute. When security expert Frank Farmer is hired to protect her from the nutter who has been sending creepy messages, she digs in her high heels and stubbornly refuses to comply with the measures Frank puts in place. You can see where it’s going: she gets in danger, Frank rescues her, and it’s not long before they’re snogging. Frank is conflicted with this blending of his professional and personal lives. Meanwhile, the nutter is becoming more audacious, and Rachel’s overshadowed sister is mooning over Frank with unrequited affection…
It’s a loud, brash, lavish affair and I have to say I enjoyed it immensely. As the determined diva, Jennlee Shallow is the real deal, a phenomenal belter-outerer of Houston’s signature songs. (Alexandra Burke will take over the role for the second week of the show’s sojourn in Wolverhampton). Shallow is matched by Micha Richardson as sister Nicki – her renditions of Saving All My Love For You and All At Once are definite highlights for me.
French actor (and renard d’argent) Benoît Maréchal is unbelievably handsome in the role of Frank Farmer, bringing Gallic charm and charisma to the role. His lacklustre karaoke version of I Will Always Love You is hilarious. In fact, the best scenes between the two leads are when they lighten up with each other.
Phil Atkinson is an imposing and menacing presence as The Stalker, although I wonder how he has time to run a campaign of terror when he is clearly never out of the gym.
The plot may be simplistic but such are the production values, with Tim Hatley’s sliding set and Mark Henderson’s cinematic lighting, we are swept along. It’s a love story, a thriller and above all, a reminder of how many great tunes Whitney Houston put out there. The hits keep coming and the orchestra, led by Michael Riley, is superb.
This is musical theatre on a grand scale, a spectacle, a chance to escape from reality for a couple of hours, and it manages to deliver the goods without descending into schmaltz and sentimentality.
I may not have seen the film, but I have heard the old joke about Whitney Houston’s favourite kind of coordination…