“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.