Jolting you into your seat, The Bodyguard, in a manner unlike almost any other musical, starts off with a bang.

Attention-ready and all too focused on the stage, the actual show kicks off with a rendition of one of Whitney Houston’s greatest hits more akin to a live stadium performance than musical theatre; the blinding lights and chaotic choreography thankfully dissipating slightly in the later large numbers for a stronger focus on the show’s main star.

Soon proceeding to the film’s famous narrative of the bodyguard (Kip Gamblin) brought in to protect one of the world’s most popular performers from an obsessed stalker, there’s enough here distinctly different from the classic flick to give you a taste of something new, with the musical actually handling the build-up to the story’s strongest twist much better than the film.

Here Paulini Curuenavuli takes on Whitney Houston’s iconic role of Rachel Marron. Joined by The Voice veteran Prinnie Stevens as Rachel’s sister, together they command almost all of the show’s musical interludes. Both are outstandingly cast and best on stage in the sparing moments they share a number. Taking on a role so closely tied to one of the most revered stars of recent memory is no easy feat and Paulini deploys her considerable talents to no small effect; as good in the sparring scenes with her bodyguard as the frequent full-throated renditions of Houston’s most well-known songs, with One Moment in Time, I Wanna Dance With Somebody and Queen of the Night serving as highlights.

The inevitable staging of I Will Always Love You, above all, was rivetingly managed and easily the show’s most memorable takeaway.

A story about the perils of fame that uniquely lends itself to being a jukebox musical, it’s notable that The Bodyguard’s main star doesn’t actually have a singing role. This was save one intentionally-lacklustre karaoke rendition of the aforementioned classic, one of the drama’s thankfully frequent comic reprieves, which too came soon off a hilarious rendition of another Houston classic by three karaoke patrons not quite on the level of Rachel Marron.

Gamblin, while hilarious in his few comedic moments, is unenviably caught in the one role that does not transpose so well to musical theatre. Kevin Costner’s famous Frank Farmer character, restrained, stoic, and above all unemotional invariably struggles to translate to the stage setting where movements have to be loud, exaggerated and you can’t appear too rigid if you’re up front and centre. Both excellent on their own steam, the interplay between the two leads suffers as a result, never encompassing the tense beginnings or emotional conclusion that characterized Costner and Houston’s palpable chemistry.

Using limited sets for some of the non-musical sequences and only deploying the grandiose staging when more necessary than not, or to further one of Rachel’s performances, the more intimate settings went a great way to oft-emphasise the emotional edge of the story and allow the characters to better interact in some of the tension-filled moments.

The production of the musical numbers no small delight, the play’s more subdued instances could be very hit and miss; an awkward phone call taking place between two characters on either end of the stage where as with traditional theatre they could have just spoken, or the frequent use of videos to belabour the emotional tension or quietly-deliberate stalker’s antics a distraction rather than an asset. Brendan Irving as ‘The Stalker’ doesn’t appear too often but has a very strong stage presence throughout, utilizing the type of jump-scares and excellent lighting effects also seen in recent productions of The Woman in Black to raise the stakes of the story; his frequent appearances by video as a result rendering themselves largely superfluous.

A musical where you can gleefully get up and dance with no shortage of toe-tapping hits, The Bodyguard has no end of nostalgic appeal but thankfully enough that’s none too familiar that you can enjoy it in its own right.

4 stars

On Artshub