The Bodyguard, with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in its starring roles, exploded onto screens around the world in 1992, ultimately taking in around A$538 million at the box office worldwide and giving Houston some of the biggest and most enduring hits of her entire career. ‘I will always love you’ sold over four million copies globally, making Houston the record holder for highest one-week single sales by a female artist (a record only recently broken by Adele’s ‘Hello’.)
The musical version of The Bodyguard, which first arrived on the stage in 2012, has completed a sell-out run in London’s West End, a successful UK, Ireland and European Tour, and is continuing to bring in audiences in Germany, South Korea, the USA and The Netherlands. Two weeks ago, the cast of the first Australian company commenced rehearsals for their April premiere at the Sydney Lyric Theatre.
One of the key players in the Australian cast is Prinnie Stevens, best known to Australians for the impressive vocal prowess she demonstrated on the first season of The Voice Australia. And while Australians know well the success Stevens has chalked up in the pop arena, many remain unaware that the singer, dancer, songwriter and presenter began her professional career in musical theatre.
“When I came out of school, I went straight into my first show at 17, doing Rent,” she tells Theatre People.
“Musicals are my first love … I grew up on that stage.”
In fact, Stevens went on to earn a Helpmann Award nomination for her performance in Oh, What a Night! – an experience that ultimately led to her being asked to relocate to New York and lead an all-girl group for Sony Music. More recently, Stevens starred in Thriller Live, a spectacular tribute to the King of Pop that saw her take the West End stage before embarking on a tour across Australia.
“I was very privileged to be a part of that … It was a dream come true, it really was.”
Returning to the musical theatre stage in The Bodyguard will afford Stevens an opportunity she says she hasn’t had before.
“I’ve done a lot of musical theatre, but I haven’t had a gutsy acting role, and this is definitely that,” she says. “It’s intense, it’s a big role.”
Stevens talks about the familiarity with the show she had prior to the audition process.
“It was actually playing when I was doing Thriller on the West End but, because I was working, I was unable to go and see it,” she says.
“But I like that I haven’t seen it because I’ve been able to make the role my own.”
Stevens reflects on what she enjoys most about performing on the musical theatre stage.
“It’s doing the same thing every night to a different audience, and finding little nuances and new things within that same piece every single night,” she explains.
Stevens describes it as an “absolute honour” to be chosen to play one of the two leading female roles in the Australian premiere season of The Bodyguard. She’s enjoying sinking her teeth into the character of Nikki Marron.
“Not having lots of dancing to learn, I can concentrate just on the character,” she says. “It’s totally different for me, but very exciting.”
Stevens’ castmate, Brendan Irving, knew little of The Bodyguard’s stage iteration before he auditioned. He says, like a number of cast members, he made a conscious decision not to re-watch the film before heading into the audition room.
“We just went in with our scripts and our scenes, and just ran off instinct,” Irving says.
Asked what surprised him as he got to know the stage musical, he mentions its darker tone.
“It’s incredibly dark. It’s got the glitz and the glamour, the high energy and everything you want to get out of the musical, but it’s got a really dark undercurrent and a really threatening vibe that raises the stakes,” he says. “And I think that’s something that can, sometimes, lack from a blockbuster musical – actual stakes, real danger and sincere threat.”
Irving is playing the role of the stalker.
“The stalker character is totally different to the movie. This guy is very dangerous,” he says.
And according to Irving, it’s not just script revisions that make the stalker a more sinister force on stage.
“They have made this guy so larger than life and threatening, in terms of the audio/visual elements, that it’s so cool to be a part of that. I not only get to use my own craft to give that sinister feel, but I’ve got the help of the orchestral scoring and the lighting and the sound and the visual elements to uplift it as well,” he says.
Glaston Toft, part of the incredible principal cast that led the Australian premiere season of Jersey Boys in 2009, is taking on the role of FBI agent Ray Court.
Toft talks about the blockbuster movie that inspired the musical.
“The film is great because it’s got such a great catalogue of music and a dramatic story. It translates well to the stage, in that the musical numbers are in a naturalistic context for the majority of the show because it’s all pop songs and it’s done in a performance environment,” he says.
Toft says he’s been surprised by the technical aspects of the piece.
“There’s lots of scenes and quick movement, and that’s all done through great technical stuff,” he says. “I look forward to the teching process of this.”
Irving says The Bodyguard, in its stage guise, retains all of the most cherished moments from the film.
“It’s got every song that was in the movie … and then it’s also got [more of] Whitney Houston’s catalogue that wasn’t in the film,” he says.
“You’re getting the best of the movie but then, of course, that was 1992 … They’ve set [the musical] in modern day, so it’s current and it’s sexy, and rather than just trying to pick up [the movie] and replicate it on stage, they’ve thought, ‘How can we use the stage to make this even better or to enrich the story?’”
Irving is excited about the cast assembled and lavishes considerable praise on Paulini, who is tasked with recreating the role made famous by one of the highest selling and most loved female artists of the 20th century (Theatre People previously spoke to Paulini about her musical theatre debut).
Irving describes Paulini’s performance so far as “jaw-dropping”.
“She’s incredible, and still so humble and modest about it!”
THE BODYGUARD – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star
Season: From 21 April
Performance Times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8pm, Matinees Tues & Wed 1pm, Sat & Sun 2pm, Sun 6pm
Prices: From $69.90*
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 795 267
Groups 8+ call 1300 889 278
* A ticketmaster handling fee of $8.45 will be levied at purchase. A delivery fee may also apply depending on the chosen delivery method
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Season: From 19 July
Performance Times: Wed to Sat 7.30pm, Matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm
Prices: From $69.90*
Bookings: qpac.com.au or 136 246
Groups 8+ call 07 3840 7466
* Transaction fees apply
Venue: Regent Theatre
Season: From 24 August
Performance Times: Tues 7pm, Wed/Thurs 7.30pm, Fri/Sat 8pm, Matinees Tues & Wed 1pm, Sat & Sun 2pm, Sun 6pm (performance times vary weekly)
Price: Tickets from $69.90*
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 136 100
Groups 8+ 1300 889 278
* A Ticketmaster handling fee of $8.90 will be levied at purchase. A delivery fee may also apply depending on the chosen delivery method