It has thrilled audiences both in the West End and on two national tours but last night, all eyes were on one of the North East’s own daughters as she gave her final bows at the Sunderland Empire on her last night in The Bodyguard.
Consett-born Zoe Birkett was visibly emotional both during the show and afterwards. It makes sense – to quote another show, there’s no place like home. And a particularly rowdy Saturday night crowd willed her to a rousing finale as she said goodbye to the show that has christened her a fully-fledged musical theatre starlet.
The show is based on the 1992 film and follows international recording artist Rachel Marron, who seems to have the best of both worlds: a successful career, two Oscar nominations and the love of her dear sister Nicki and young son Fletcher. But, after a run-in with a stalker, her management hire Frank Farmer, a bodyguard who doesn’t exactly leave a great first impression on Rachel. However love eventually blossoms between them and their relationship leads the pair to a thrilling showdown with her crazed admirer, all soundtracked by the timeless music of Whitney Houston.
With shoes as big to fill as those worn by Beverley Knight, Alexandra Burke and of course Whitney, Zoe Birkett was always going to have her work cut out for her. The songs themselves require a great deal of stamina to perform every night, not to mention the energetic dance routines and emotional presence it takes to bring the show’s leading role to life. Luckily, northerners are made of tough stuff and the former Pop Idol diva gives every ounce of herself to Marron, bounding through number after number like an old pro. From a jaw-dropping entrance to the stage for Queen Of The Night, she gives gentle vulnerability in Run To You – a duet with the equally fierce Rachel John, and full-blown star power during One Moment In Time and I Will Always Love You. If I had one criticism (and a small one it is) it would be the inclusion of certain songs in the touring version of the show that weren’t present in the original West End production. Songs like Million Dollar Bill do little to add to the experience – it wasn’t a particularly memorable hit for Whitney and has no place amongst some of the other numbers here.
The supporting cast are first-rate, too. In particular Rachel John’s Nikki and Stuart Reid’s Frank are wonderful – the cabin scene towards the end of the show is edge-of-your-seat stuff. In the mostly non-singing role of Frank, Reid does well to maintain a strong presence.
It was announced recently that it would be returning to London this year, with original lead Beverley Knight once again at the helm.
However, that is then and this is now and for thousands of fans, including a packed North East audience last night, Zoe Birkett is Rachel Marron and this show without a doubt belongs to her.