Nick Kenkel remembers the days before smartphones, when you had to wait for your favorite songs to play on the radio.
He has been reminded of those times, now that he is directing and choreographing “The Bodyguard,” which is at Beverly’s North Shore Music Theatre until Nov. 10.
The musical is based on the movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner that was released in 1992, when Kenkel was a freshman in college.
“I’m a product of the ’80s, so Whitney Houston was one of my iconic legends that I fell in love with,” he said.
That’s one reason why Kenkel, who has directed four previous productions at North Shore Music Theatre, jumped at the chance to work on “The Bodyguard.”
“I personally am trying to make this a love letter to Whitney is how I describe it,” he said. “This is her biggest movie moment and probably the height of her career — this soundtrack and this movie.”
The film version of “The Bodyguard” was a huge success when it came out. It tells the story of Rachel Marron, a popular actress and singer who has received death threats.
She hires Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent, to protect her, and a romance develops between the two strong-willed characters.
“If you like love stories, it’s a good story for you,” Kenkel said.
While he can’t help but recall his initial affection for Houston and her music, Kenkel’s production of “The Bodyguard” is anything but an exercise in nostalgia.
“This is very different; it’s created specifically for North Shore,” he said. “I also wanted to do my own thing and redo the dance numbers.”
The musical was originally staged in London in 2012, the same year that Houston died tragically young at age 48, and includes 15 songs that Houston recorded, compared to six in the film.
The book for the musical is by Alexander Dinelaris, who won an Academy Award in 2014 for his original screenplay for “Birdman,” and it sets the story in the present, complete with references to social media.
But Kenkel feels the English production, which served as the basis for a version that toured the U.S. from 2016 to 2018, was possibly “a little strict.”
He has danced for Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys and has included dance moves from Houston’s music videos in his choreography for this show, but he has also incorporated “a lot of contemporary hip-hop flavor.”
“I’ve got a group of dancers that do other types of commercial dance projects, different from typical musical theater,” Kenkel said. “It has an edgy LA vibe, in my opinion.”
These include Cheaza Figueroa, who has done her own Whitney Houston tribute shows, in the role of Rachel Marron.
“This is her first musical,” Kenkel said. “She brings a fresh sense to it, very honest.”
While Figueroa may be new to musical theater, she has appeared on several television shows and has a wide range of experience as a dancer and singer.
“She’s very Rachel Marron, a real-life performer,” Kenkel said. “We did ‘Peep Show’ together in Las Vegas. It ran for 4 1/2 years. Mel B from Spice Girls was the original lead of the show. She was called the ‘Peep Diva,’ and Cheaza was backup. When (Mel B) left, Cheaza bumped up and ran with it.”
The round stage at North Shore Music Theatre always creates an opportunity to do things differently, and in “The Bodyguard,” Kenkel is using it to heighten the tension.
The story features a stalker, which has moved the actor who plays him, Brent Thiessen, to make a donation to Jane Doe Inc., a policy and advocacy organization for victims of sexual and domestic abuse. Kenkel said that the stage will help to make Thiessen’s character more vivid.
“In the round, we have the opportunity to have him be around a lot and among the people,” Kenkel said. “He’s sort of omnipresent.”
While this production marks Figueroa’s first time in a musical, it is Joshua McKenna’s first performance of any kind.
The 8-year-old from Beverly who’s in the second grade at Cove Elementary School is playing Fletcher, Rachel Marron’s son.
The closest he’s come to acting before is dancing in the stands at Celtics games, in hopes that he will appear on the scoreboard’s screen. But Joshua has learned to give a convincing performance at a key moment in “The Bodyguard.”
“Let’s just say I scream and act terrified,” he said.
Joshua, who is the only child actor in “The Bodyguard,” loves hearing the songs by Whitney Houston.
“I listen to ‘Queen of the Night,’ ‘How Will I Know’ and ‘Jesus Loves Me,’” Joshua said.
Justin McKenna said that his son auditioned in August, got the script in the middle of September and delivers lines in about eight separate scenes.
“He’s gotten along with the cast, and the cast is terrific with him, and he’s just loving it,” Justin said.
Rehearsals have cut into Joshua’s favorite activities, which include karate and flag football, but the novelty of appearing in a professional show makes up for it.
“He’s having a lot of fun, and that’s exciting to see,” Justin said.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Bodyguard”
When: Through Sunday, Nov. 10
Where: North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly
How much: $61 to $86
More information: 978-232-7200 or www.nsmt.org