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Critics rave about Heather Headley's performance in London musical 'The Bodyguard'

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press

They didn't have such kind words for the stage production as a whole.

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 11:53 am

LONDON — Does “The Bodyguard” have the muscle to be a hit?

A stage musical based on the 1992 movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner has opened at London's Adelphi Theatre to a mixed critical reception — but universal praise for its big-voiced star.

Reviewers raved Thursday about former Fort Wayne resident Heather Headley's performance as Rachel Marron, a superstar singer who falls for the former secret service agent (Lloyd Owen) assigned to protect her from a stalker.

Critic Mark Shenton in The Stage newspaper found Headley — an American actor and singer who has won both a Tony and a Grammy Award — “an utterly compelling star” who combines “an authentic glamour and blazingly soulful vocals.”

Evening Standard newspaper critic Henry Hitchings called her “mesmerizing,” while the Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer praised Headley's “sassy stage presence” and declared her renditions of songs such as “I Will Always Love You” even better than those by Houston, who died in February at age 48.

Headley spent her youth in Fort Wayne before going off to college and then on to success in Broadway musicals and as a recording artist. Her mother and brother still live in Fort Wayne.

As for the rest of the show, some critics found campy fun where others saw just another uninspired jukebox musical.

The Guardian's Michael Billington damned “The Bodyguard” as “one more example of the necrophiliac musical morbidly attracted to a cinematic corpse.”

He said that although staged with “enormous technical efficiency” it was “a sterile attempt to recapture the feel of a not very good romantic thriller and turn the West End into a distant suburb of Hollywood.”

In contrast, Times of London reviewer Libby Purves found it “absurd and hugely enjoyable,” with terrible dialogue but “brilliantly clever” design and powerful performances.

She added that “the heart swells with British pride that this terrific all-American schlock is not a Broadway import,” but the work of a London team including director Thea Sharrock and designer Tim Hatley.

The Telegraph's Spencer predicted it would be a hit.

“'The Bodyguard' is dross with a gloss, and proof that if you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you can sometimes come surprisingly close,” he wrote.