Flames launch from the front of the stage, the curtain rises to reveal Rachel Marron (a dazzling Paulini), suspended on a platform above a stage full of dancers in glittering costumes. It’s Whitney Houston’s ‘Queen of the Night’ and this is The Bodyguard.
Rachel Marron is an internationally acclaimed film star and singer. She has a dedicated and large following of fans, including one unwanted admirer; a military trained, deranged stalker (Brendan Irving) who leaves her threatening letters and steals her costumes from backstage. Enter her new bodyguard Frank Farmer (a sincere Kip Gamblin), and although Rachel resists the new measures he takes at first, sparks start to fly between them.
When the music starts (under David Skelton’s vivacious musical direction), Paulini’s voice soars; she has an incredible range and exceptional belt, she is well suited to Whitney’s astonishing repertoire. Backed by an ensemble that exudes bucket-loads of energy and charisma, cheesiness abounds. And Karen Bruce’s sharp choreography embraces the no holds barred approach. It’s a jukebox musical that knows the best thing it has going for it is Whitney’s well-loved catalogue of songs, and it unashamedly embraces it by throwing everything it has into these moments of camp extravagance.
As the music fades, it’s clear what the glitz and glamour were trying to distract us from. Alexander Dinelaris’ book (an adaption of Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay for the film) is packed full of clichés that are gratingly void of meaning, underdeveloped relationships revealing little truth about the characters, and a plot so formulaic every twist and turn can be seen coming from a mile away.
Thea Sharrock’s direction does the script little favours, bringing out all the cheesiness, and shying away from anything real. When life and death hangs in the balance, it would be pretty easy to make the stakes feel palpable, yet if anything the most high stake moments are, at best, laughable. The first close encounter Marron has with her stalker takes place in a club where we’re told things get out of control and consequently Frank has to carry Rachel out of the club in the iconic poster image of the show. Although pounding music and flashing lights are projected onto the slow motion vignettes of ‘violence’, the moment feels anything but tense. And at the conclusion of the show, in what should be the emotional climax- the most adored and heart-wrenching Whitney ballad (‘I Will Always Love You’) is delivered to no one in particular as the actor walks across the stage; it makes very little dramatic sense.
With ornate direction and an overworked script, the cast has a lot to work against to make us care about these characters. And unfortunately, across the board, this cast’s broad strokes approach leaves the characters feeling very one-dimensional.
Tim Hatley’s set smoothly transforms between Rachel’s mansion to various settings for the decadent musical numbers. And at various times throughout the show montages are projected onto a black screen that descends over the main action, and by that point it seems fittingly contrived.
What The Bodyguard lacks in emotionally nuanced storytelling or convincingly gripping stakes, it makes up for in sequins, high kicks and killer renditions of your favourite Whitney numbers. The Bodyguard is best enjoyed if you abandon your preconceptions about what a musical should look or feel like, and with a drink (or two) in hand.