A glitzy, kitschy musical version of the 1992 box-office smash hit The Bodyguard opened to high-spirited Brisbane theatre goers over the weekend and proved, much to the surprise of some punters, to be a thoroughly entertaining evening.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the mark, this is a shallow puddle of a romance between a powerful female music diva, Rachel Marron (Paulini Curuenavuli) and a white, ex-secret services agent, Frank Farmer (Kip Gamblin) who rides into town to rescue the stubborn little-lady from a dangerously obsessed stalker (also a white dude, Brendan Irving). While he is at it, Farmer regains confidence in himself enough to return to the White House (where the real guards hang out) and leave a much wiser Marron to her own devices but still sadly alone. It’s a dreadful storyline but thanks to the team who put this show together (Thea Sharrock, Director), we are also gifted a quasi-tribute to Witney Houston (the musical element) which makes the whole thing work somehow. Anybody who spent Saturday mornings with Rage in the 1980’s and early 1990’s could (and did) sing along, revelling in the opportunity to remember the contribution that the supremely talented Houston made to the world of music. It was notable however that the story was modernised in terms of the use of mobile phones and social media references leaving questions as to whether the plotline could have been better treated for newer audience sensibilities.
The other thing this extravaganza has going for it, is the light-hearted way it approaches the story (it is alright to laugh) and the creative buzz and bang (literally pyrotechnic) to the handling of our not-so-friendly stalker presence. The audience had great fun booing Brendan Irving (Stalker) as he took his bow, Irving good-natured at the playful interaction. The set-design (Tim Hatley) was cinematic in its treatment; clever mechanics with pieces of the set and staging automatically configuring into frames around the action kept attention alert in the faster-paced scenes and the use of multimedia added another dimension to the shadier side of the plot.
Paulini Curuenavuli has credibly made her way in the world since her 2003 Australian Idol debut. In the leading role of Rachel Marron, she easily demonstrates her impressive vocal range and does well with the canned American accent. Careful to highlight that she could never hope to emulate Houston’s vocal prowess, Paulini’s sublime vibrato made it easy to see why she took the lead role. Her rendition of the movie’s famous theme, ‘I Will Always Love You’, was as close to perfection as you will get.
Prinnie Stevens in the role of Marron’s underappreciated sister, Nicki, also shows off impressive vocal skills, at times hitting more of a resemblance to Houston than Curuenavuli in some of the more powerfully raging pieces. Kip Gamblin, the bodyguard himself, isn’t given the time nor the intimacy to charm and is left to do a lot of standing around looking tough but his Karaoke scene was cute. The supposed chemistry between the two lead characters was lacking, with a quickly glossed over bed scene the only evidence of their passionate affair.
So, there you have it, the show is as much a spectacle as it is spectacular and if you don’t take yourself entirely too seriously, you will have fun. As the entire audience stood up to sing and dance along with ‘I Want to Dance with Somebody’ I had a thought that on some plane, Whitney Houston may hear the echoes of us remembering her for more than her tragic demise and for me, this was the truly special element of the evening. Definitely a must-see for Houston fans and anyone who really liked the film (or indeed remembers it) but should you be the one chaperoning, chin up, you’ll get by just fine and no doubt know all the words.
Playing at the Lyric Theatre until August 13, tickets can be purchased online at qpac.com.au.