BWW REVIEW: Appealing to Whitney Houston Fans, THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL Brings Another Movie To Stage
Thursday 27th April 2017, Lyric Theatre, Sydney
THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL is the latest movie to stage adaptation to reach Australian shores, showcasing Australia's Paulini Curuenavuli in the role made famous by Whitney Houston. Following a successful London premiere in 2012, adaptation of the romantic thriller come jukebox musical opened in Sydney to the delight of fans of the late Whitney Houston.
The premise of the work, for those unfamiliar with the movie, is that Academy Award nominated pop superstar Rachel Marron (Curuenavuli) is being stalked with the latest escalation resulting in a gown going missing from her dressing room, a sinister letter in its place. Rachel's manager engages a professional bodyguard with ties to the FBI, Frank Farmer (Kip Gamblin), to boost security, against the Diva's wishes, also putting her existing security manager Tony's (Damien Bermingham) nose out of joint. Frank and Rachel clash as she feels he is over zealous and he believes she is spoilt and not taking the threat seriously. Added to the mix is Rachel's young son Fletcher (shared between Rome Champion, Joshua Scott, Tyrese Medina and Chetachi Nwaogazi, with Champion filling the role on Opening night) who is drawn to Frank as friend and male influence, and her sister Nicki (Prinnie Stevens) who works for her sister and resents living in Rachel's shadow.
Alexander Dinelaris' (book) adaptation of Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay strips back a great deal of the movie's detail in favour of musical numbers, presented as concerts or reflective moments. This has left director Thea Sharrock with little to work with by way of plot or character development and what little suspense there could have been is reduced by the early and repeated reveal of The Stalker (Brendan Irving), resulting in an almost pantomime feel to the work. Sharrock has also opted for grand effects and the use of film noir style projection over developing characters and emotion. Pyrotechnics, rock concert lighting and a bevvy of barely clad dancers is used to distract from the lack of acting ability from the leads who deliver performances that lack emotion and any form of realistic response.
Set and costume designer Tim Hatley has devised a fairly bland set of panels that slide to reveal the interior of Rachel's beige home and the rustic log cabin Frank hides the family in. The repetition of ideas wears a bit thin as multiple scenes are opened or closed using an aperture style slide of the panels. The sliding sets, with actors still in situ at tables and chairs is also somewhat comical. Hatley has chosen to keep the non-concert costuming very bland, like something bought at Topshop rather than trying to indicate Rachel is any sort of diva. The concert costuming generally contains the requisite pop concert sequins, bare flesh and glitz but the costumes don't seem particularly customised for the performers. The little red sequin number Rachel wears when backed by gold clad backup dancers actually looks less imposing than that of the dancers as Hatley has provided the dancers with full fringing but kept the focal point, Rachel, with only fringing on the skirt and the silver corset, jeans and platform hightops seems rather low key for even the smallest of concerts.
Curuenavuli has an impressive vocal range and recreates Whitney Houston's sound well but it is unclear whether it is Mike Dixon's vocal arrangements or the singer's choice to utilise unusual phrasing, particularly in the more reflective ballads. The songs are also presented more as recreations to satisfy the fans that will want to compare the performance to Whitney's recordings. The songs, as with the general performance, lacks an emotional connection to the text and Sharrock has not helped this with the number of 'stand and deliver' directorial choices.
Kip Gamblin has little to work with as Frank is kept as a reasonably two dimensional character with the exception of his interaction with Fletcher and Sharrock's choice to have him sleep shirtless through one entire scene highlights how shallow this work really is. Gamblin's interaction with Champion is endearing and highlights the child's isolation and desire for a suitable father figure. Whilst hampered by the shortness of scenes, Gamblin conveys Frank's transition from strictly business to starting to care for Rachel, Nikki and Fletcher but there is no real chemistry with Curuenavuli.
As sister Nicki, Prinnie Stevens initially presents a textured performance that exposes the sister's feeling of being invisible and falling in love with Frank. Her part in Run To You captures the emotion and longing but when she returned in Act II her performance became more stilted. As with Stevens, Champion also started the night relaxed and relatively realistic then seemed to be struck by nerves in the second act, as if someone had briefed the cast at intermission. Champion's dancing is impressive and he gets to shine in the rehearsal scene and the finale.
It is unfortunate that the lead roles are presented by pop singers/reality tv stars and non-theatre actors rather than musical theatre performers who have been relegated to the minor roles. These performers do however make the most of their smaller parts with notable performances from Damien Bermingham as Tony, Andrew Hazzard as Sy Spector and Lachlan Martin as the DJ and part of Rachel's posse.
This is a shallow, cheesy story with stilted acting that is designed to appeal to fans of Whitney Houston's music. The modifications to the plot would potentially disappoint anyone expecting to see a recreation of the film and the clunky presentation of the music when not presented in the context of a concert will also disappoint true musical theatre fans due to the lack of context and emotional connection to the work. Had this production been cast with musical theatre performers in the lead roles, as the original London production had, the outcome may have been more akin to the success experienced by the original but unfortunately this production opted for popularity casting which has greatly affected the dramatic quality.
THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL is suitable for anyone looking for a night out with friends where you'll grab a drink or four to enjoy the spectacle of the concert numbers and giggle at the 'drama'.
Lyric Theatre, Sydney