Left – Paulini Curuenavuli and Kip Gamblin. Cover – Kip Gamblin and Paulini Curuenavuli. Photos – Jeff Busby
In 1992, The Bodyguard was the second-highest grossing film of the year, behind Disney’s smash hit animated feature, Aladdin. Twenty-five years later, both films have been turned into stage productions and both of those, by sheer coincidence, are currently playing in Melbourne.
The Bodyguard – The Musical is based on the original screenplay by Hollywood legend, Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), and more or less follows the plot of the film. A world-wearied bodyguard, Frank Farmer, is engaged to protect mega diva pop queen, Rachel Marron, after she receives anonymous death threats. Frank implements a strict security regime, but it couldn’t come at a worse time – Marron has just been nominated for an Academy Award, and staying out of the spotlight until the threat passes is simply not an option. Initially the two butt heads at Frank’s over zealousness, but as the danger to Marron’s life becomes increasingly real, she reluctantly submits to doing things Frank’s way. Besides, she’s got a cute son from a previous relationship in need of a father figure. Throw in a talented but overlooked jealous sister, an ex-military stalker with a large knife and a laser scope, and an impending ultra-glamorous but highly public event and… well … if you haven’t already seen the film, you can probably figure out the rest.
The lead character of Rachel Marron, was famously played by Whitney Houston in the movie, and indeed, the shadow of Whitney looms large over this show. While many of the songs enjoyed previous success having been recorded by other artists, they reached a whole new level of fame by virtue of their inclusion on The Bodyguard soundtrack – which still ranks as the highest selling movie soundtrack of all time. In this stage adaptation, a whole bunch more Houston songs, absent from the original soundtrack, have been added, including ‘Saving All My Love For You,’ ‘How Will I Know,’ ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody,’ as well as ‘Million Dollar Bill’ – Houston’s final single before she died in 2012.
But the inclusion of these additional songs comes at a cost, as the plot is somewhat (over)simplified and the dialogue stripped back. With such sparse material to work with, the actors need to work much harder to make their characters believable and to establish onstage relationships, which sadly never quite eventuates.
Ex-Australian Idol singer Paulini Curuenavuli, in her first theatrical role, takes on the mammoth part of Rachel Marron, and it is clearly in those scenes where her character is performing ‘on stage’ that she is most comfortable. She is convincing with her pop moves and diva vocals, and damn near brings the house down with her version of 'I Will Always Love You'. But while as a singer, Curuenavuli boasts an impressive five-octave range, her range as a dramatic actor is somewhat more limited.
As a non-singing lead, Kip Gamblin as Frank Farmer, doesn’t get any songs in which to express himself, and the dialogue he does get barely rises above stereotype. As a result he never comes across as a fully realised character, and the intended spark between he and Curuenavuli fails to ignite. Indeed, there were some downright awkward moments, such as a video montage intended to highlight their whirlwind romance, which inspired unintended laughter from the audience members near me.
Prinnie Stevens as Nicki Marron, Rachel’s jealous sister, gets a somewhat expanded role than in the film, and shares the vocal load, as it were, with Curuenavuli. Stevens impresses vocally, but again, is restricted by an anaemic script. As The Stalker, Brendan Irving plays the pantomime villain (even eliciting friendly ‘boos’ at the curtain call), and his appearances are frequently accompanied by moody lighting and dramatic sound effects, in case we didn't get the point.
The production design (Tim Hatley) is suitably impressive for a musical of this scale, switching easily between showbiz glam, Hollywood riche and a remote cabin in the woods. Mark Henderson’s lighting too, adds much to the polish of the production.
The show moves at a cracking pace, propelled by some of the best pop music of the past thirty years – indeed, the music numbers are a distinct highlight of the show. But ultimately, the music can't save this production from a clichéd script, and a lack of emotional connection between the main characters.
Based on the Warner Bros. film
Director Thea Sharrock
Venue: Regent Theatre | 191 Collins St Melbourne VIC
Dates: From 24 August 2017
Tickets: from $79.90
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au | 136 100