Bust Out a 90s Move at The Bodyguard Musical!
Sydney Lyric Theatre, April 26
Reviewed by Chris Duncan & Heather Clements
Wow! This show starts with a bang and ends with a dance party! The Bodyguard is a great night out for any fun-loving theatre goer who can stomach a good amount of tongue-in-cheek cheese and bawdy innuendos alongside top-notch song and dance. And you will most likely end up on your feet dancing unashamedly.
The Australian premiere of the stage musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner has officially opened at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre. With the unlikely premise of a stalker for a musical, the story of The Bodyguard follows former secret service agent, Frank Farmer, who is hired as a bodyguard to protect super-singing-star (think in the realm of today’s Beyonce) from a threatening unknown stalker. After initial clashes between the two headstrong leads, they … of course! … fall in love.
In the title role of ‘the bodyguard’ is former dancer and TV actor Kip Gamblin as Frank Farmer; with Paulini Curuenavuli (or simply ‘Paulini’) as the diva Rachel Marron.
The opening number of ‘Queen of the Night’ literally starts with a gunshot bang and jolts the audience to attention and to the true star of this show – Paulini. And this girl can sing! The opening sets the tone and expectation for the rest of show; that of incredibly tight and creative dancing, faultless vocals, audience engagement and a showcase of Houston’s music legacy.
The musical version of this movie has been expanded by the inclusion of multiple Houston songs that were not featured in the movie, but perfectly fit the narrative all the same. And it seems Paulini, who first came to prominence in the first season of Australian Idol back in 2003, was destined to play this role. She effortlessly delivers every song from the belting-diva ballads to the more up-tempo pop-rock tunes. Plus she dances pretty good too! To be cliched, Paulini was sublimely pitch perfect as Rachel.
As straight-up-and-down Frank Farmer, Kip Gamblin plays the wooden character well but, thankfully, with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humour as light relief. His apparent seriousness is redeemed with a charmingly funny karaoke scene which introduces the romantic connection between Rachel and Frank.
As the never-quite-good-enough/always-the-bridesmaid sister to Rachel is Nicki Marron, played beautifully by another reality show discovery Prinnie Stevens. Cleverly, her character also uses the catalogue of Houston to tell her point of view of the story. Stevens delivers this character perfectly vulnerable against Paulini’s dominating diva.
This show is not a literal interpretation of the movie, with numerous scenes and plot lines missing, but it is well adapted to the stage as a musical with key scenes transitioning via stylised sets as sliding vignettes. The sets are sumptuous. Production-wise, this show is amazing from the opening gas-fire jets to the grandiose home of Rachel and the log cabin in the woods. It is a fittingly over-the-top and schmaltzy interpretation of the melodramatic movie.
The dance ensemble was led by Amy Campbell as Resident Choreographer, along with ensemble cast of Kirrah Amosa, Anthony Bartley, Samantha Bruzzese, Olivia Cariniato, Chris Van Doren, Heath Keating, Bree Langridge, Sasha Lian, Samuel McKeown II, Lachlan Martin, Priscilla Stavrou, Maxwell Trengove, Blake Varga and Geoffrey Winter.
It is great to see amazing local talent on stage from the leads to the amazing dance ensemble. Amy Campbell as resident choreographer keeps the dancers fine-tuned to the original and challenging choreography of Karen Bruce. The dance numbers are skilled, intricate, exciting and have a cool retro vibe. All up .. they rock!
And to the timeless songs of Whitney Houston … I think we have forgotten how good they are! We expected the big numbers of ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘I’m Every Woman’, but there are so many additional songs added from the Houston catalogue that make this a complete journey for the music lover.
The surprise element to this stage show was the comedy – whether intended or not! While not present in the movie, comedy is essential in making this musical version work on stage today. The humour takes the schmaltz and cheese of this story (notably the cringe-worthy, romantic video outtakes that reinforce their love affair) to a new level of acceptance that makes it, surprisingly, work. After all, can you imagine a story about a psychopathic stalker being funny?? No. But somehow it works in this production. And Brendan Irving‘s portrayal of the stalker is both strangely comedic as well as eerie. While his flashes on stage are often weirdly funny, the fact that the audience ‘boos’ at curtain call must mean he is doing something right with this character.
Sadly, we don’t get to see Kip Gamblin dance and we hope that his actual singing voice is better than in the comedic, out-of-tune, onstage karaoke scene portrayed as Frank Farmer sings ‘I Will Always Love You’. This was one of the highlights of the show.
Aside from Paulini’s divine vocals and stage presence, perhaps the biggest star of the show are the song and dance production numbers. Each one is a highlight in itself. In fact, there were times I had forgotten I was watching a musical and thought I was actually watching Paulini present a Whitney Houston show with the best supporting dance routines imaginable! They were brilliantly choreographed and excitedly performed to a very appreciate audience.
Get to it Sydney! You won’t be disappointed!
The Bodyguard plays through May and June at the Sydney Lyric Theatre before transferring to the Lyric Theatre, Brisbane from 19 July, then the Regent Theatre, Melbourne from 24 August.