Review / ‘Bodyguard’ musical proves a crowd-pleaser

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CASCADES of fire, dazzling searchlights, high-end dance numbers, cinematic magnificence and above all, the soaring voice of Fijian-Australian singer Paulini Curuenavuli, singing Whitney Houston’s great hits – these are the things you will remember in “The Bodyguard”.

Photo Jeff Busby
With screams of appreciation for every new visual effect, the hyped-up feeling at opening night in Sydney’s Lyric Theatre made it more like being at a rock concert than a musical. It was also, at times, like being in a movie, with huge full stage-sized screens showing the characters, close up and romantic.

“The Bodyguard” is, of course, based on the 1992 Warner Bros movie, originally scripted by Lawrence Kasdan, it starred Houston and Kevin Costner and was later adapted for the stage by Alexander Dinelaris. Oddly, the entire production except for the Australian cast and some supporting creatives, is a West End-directed  enterprise, now touring around the world, but not to the US.

Gamblin and Curuenavuli. Photo by Jeff Busby
You know the story – damaged professional bodyguard, Frank Farmer, (Kip Gamblin) is hired to protect super-diva Rachel Marron (Curuenavuli) and her little son Fletcher (last night Rome Champion) from a predatory stalker who lurks on the periphery of the action until an explosive climax. Despite an initial clash or personalities, Frank and Rachel end up in bed. In a developed subplot, Rachel’s supportive sister Nicki, (Prinnie Stevens) also a terrific singer, sacrifices herself to her sister’s success.

It seems an unlikely subject for a stage musical, and it is.

With little psychological development, there’s not much acting on show. Gamblin is a passive and physically unremarkable Frank, Brendan Irving is a very affable stalker (although the audience enjoyed booing him). Curuenavuli is a spectacular singer, making a fair fist of Houston’s numbers, including “Saving All My Love”, “I Have Nothing”, “Greatest Love Of All”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and naturally, “I Will Always Love You”.

A family moment, photo Jeff Busby
That leaves any emotional development in “The Bodyguard” to the very cute Champion (there are three other boys playing the son throughout the season) and Prinnie Stevens, who packs considerable emotional punch as the sister Nicki.

But really, it’s all about the showstopping numbers. Curuenavuli, usually supported by a team of muscular male dancers, choreographed by London artist Karen Bruce, together with a snazzy of girl dancers add to the adrenalin-filled mood.

An exception to this rule was the modestly effective scene where Rachel and Frank go to a karaoke bar – here the performers were stretched to their limits by having to sing badly, with Frank coming off badly, not a good look for a leading man. No wonder it proves too much for Rachel, who bursts into a virtuoso number.

Canberra readers will be pleased to learn that Canberra artist Kirrah Amosa appears in  her first professional role as a member of the singing ensemble, also understudying the parts of Nicki and Rachel – a good start to her career. Another Canberra talent is seen in veteran professional Damien Bermingham’s as Tony.

There are no surprises in “The Bodyguard”. It’s full-on, it’s spectacular and in all likelihood viewers will go home singing, “I Will Always Love You”.

 

 

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Helen Musa
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