If you were a teen or twenty-something during the late 80s and early 90s then this may be the show for you. For fans of Whitney Houston, it was a triumph. Excellent performances of 15 of Houston’s hits took us on a walk down memory lane, with Paulini Curuenavuli’s rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’ being an almost identical reproduction of the smash hit from the original Bodyguard movie.
The show quite literally started with a bang, causing many in the audience to jump (be warned!) and launched straight into a concert sequence of ‘Queen of the Night’. An eye-catching (and frequently blinding) light show accompanied the number, along with dramatic costumes and dance. Paulini, playing Rachel Marron, did an excellent job with both the challenging vocals, and the acting range required throughout the show. She effectively moved between the confident, rock star public persona of Rachel Marron, and the more vulnerable private side of her personality. She also showed her dancing skills, working convincingly with the dance team during all the concert and rehearsal scenes.
Curuenavuli shared the vocal burden with Prinnie Stevens, who played Nicki Marron. Stevens has a beautiful, clear soprano, that contrasted effectively with Curuenavuli’s powerful belt and wide range. Her vocal performance was excellent. Other than a few lines by Aston Droomer, as Fletcher, and an intentionally terrible karaoke version of the original Dolly Parton version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ sung by Kip Gamblin as Frank Farmer, the entire songlist was performed by the two Marron sisters. While I was caught up in the performance it wasn’t really notable, but in hindsight, it is quite unusual for the songs in a musical to be sung by so few cast members.
Droomer did a great job as Fletcher. His dancing skills in particular were impressive – he did not look at all out of place with the adult dance team. His vocals were a little flat however, and ‘Jesus Loves You’, performed with Curuenavuli and Stevens, seemed to be pitched too high for him.
The character of Frank Farmer didn’t really give Gamblin much to work with – the character is stiff and unyielding, and what we could expect to be the more human aspects of the character were not part of the on stage moments. Andrew Hazzard, as Sy Spector, gave us quite a few laughs, providing some lighter moments, as the only character who really had the opportunity to do so.
Some interesting plot choices were made in the transition of The Bodyguard from film to musical stage. Some of the most dramatic plot points were replaced, and without revealing any spoilers, the new direction is somewhat less exciting, with a more limited story arc. I am unclear as to the motivation for the changes. It wasn’t time motivated, as the musical is only ten minutes shorter than the movie running time. The new version does show all the characters surrounding Rachel Marron in a more favourable light, but that does takes away some the drama.
Lighting, designed by Mark Henderson, played a really important part in this show. Lighting was used to create the feeling of being at a Rachel Marron concert, to create very accurate effects of light flooding through windows, and to create drama during the action moments. Other than several moments that caused actual physical pain to the audience (the opening number was very hard to watch due to the lighting), the lighting was extremely effective, and helped foster the convincing illusion of the various locations.
Unlike in most musicals, the choreography by Karen Bruce was used entirely in context of the performances of the concerts (and related rehearsals) by Rachel Marron within the show. It effectively created the feeling of a music video, and the dance numbers were extremely tight.
The sound, designed by Richard Brooker, was generally excellent. The vocals and orchestra were well balanced, and apart from Droomer’s mic perhaps being a little loud (he was doing a great job of projecting!) throughout the show, the sound was very effective.
The costumes, by Tim Hatley, were an eclectic mix, due to the nature of the show. I wasn’t enamoured of the outfits Curuenavuli wore in the various concert scenes, but the gowns she wore for both the Oscar performance, and the final number, were absolutely stunning. And the transition to normal, in fact very comfortable street clothes for the home scenes highlighted the change in character for those scenes. A mother, a sister – a real, vulnerable human being, rather than a diva.
The Bodyguard was directed by Thea Sharrock, and musically directed by David Skelton. The musical performances of each of the Whitney Houston songs were all exceptional. The direction used lighting and sound effects to create moments of suspense, and of dramatic action. It also made good use of the space, and the beautifully detailed sets (I loved the subtle dinosaur wallpaper in Fletcher’s room) created by Tim Hatley, to transport us convincingly to the range of locations needed to tell us this story.
If you are a fan of the original movie, or Whitney Houston’s music in general, then this musical adaptation will make for a very enjoyable night out. The audience on opening night certainly thought so, giving the show (and Curuenavuli in particular) a rousing standing ovation.
For more details and to purchase tickets: https://www.thebodyguardmusical.com.au/melbourne-tickets/
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby