BWW Review: THE BODYGUARD at the Hippodrome Confounds Movie-Lovers
THE BODYGUARD, which officially opened Monday in Baltimore at the Hippodrome, is a strange little hybrid of a musical. On one hand it's a pretty straightforward love story about a girl falling for a boy who has been hired to protect her. On the other, it's a jukebox musical using the works of Whitney Houston as a jumping off point. Both have their positives and negatives but therein lies the problem. Since the producers were so focused on making the show both a love story AND a jukebox musical, neither part received the attention it so deserved, and both parts suffered because of it.
The story, based on the original movie from the early 90s, was thin from the start. The movie is not considered a classic by any means. Most people remember it as Whitney Houston's big acting break and because of her chart-topping take on "I Will Always Love You." So choosing to make a 2 hour musical from what's basically a "girl and boy meet, then girl and boy fall in love" story, was going to be most difficult. I can almost understand the urge to throw a few more beats in for good measure - like the music of its original star. But the problem with most musicals built around a particular band or singer is that the writers shoe-horn a story around what's happening in the music. When the story already exists, as it does in THE BODYGUARD, shoe-horning songs around the action becomes even more difficult and more far-fetched.
For instance, at one point Rachel - the Whitney Houston character - is watching her son play, so of course she spends the next few minutes singing "I Believe the Children are our Future." This has no bearing on the plot whatsoever. After the song is through, the story starts from where it left off before she began singing this particular song. She sang it beautifully, but why did it need to be there in the first place? That's what made it so difficult for me to watch. If the producers had chosen story over the music, the show would have been a bit thin, but it would have been much more relatable and easier to follow.
All of that being said, the cast somehow made what they were given, work quite well. Deborah Cox has a beautiful voice that is strong enough to carry Whitney's music, and the show itself. The real testament to her talent was the moment that she finally had the chance to sing "I Will Always Love You." She received a standing ovation for that song, which she genuinely deserved. Jasmin Richardson, who played Nicki, also had a breathtaking voice. Her character was given some extra backstory that didn't appear in the original story, but was quickly tied up with a bow. Though it did allow her to use her beautiful voice to sing "Saving All My Love for You" which was a highlight of the entire show.
As for the staging itself, it wasn't exciting or new by any means, but it did the trick. Though it must be said, the use of projections was completely jarring and not useful in the least. At different points in the show, Frank (the bodyguard), Rachel, Nicki, and even the assassin - the guy that's stalking Rachel and the reason for the bodyguard in the first place - were all projected on the curtains of the stage. And we're talking enormous projections too. Tense moments are no longer tense if you're watching a static image of a bad guy with a gun projected onto a red curtain as opposed to watching the actual bad guy with a gun. It was a fairly strange choice for the most pivotal moment in the story, to say the least.
And like I said before, that's where the producers seemed to go wrong. The story itself from the very beginning led to most of the issues with this particular production. A lot can be forgiven in the theater, but when the material itself isn't strong enough, no amount of fancy footwork from the performers is going to make it better.