BWW Review: You'll Wanna Feel the Heat of THE BODYGUARD at the Ohio Theatre
Love was in the air when a packed house celebrated Valentine's Day on opening night of THE BODYGUARD at the Ohio Theatre. Starting out with a bang (literally), Deborah Cox dominated the stage with her powerhouse voice and stunning presence as 'Rachel Marron', originally played by the late Whitney Houston in the feature film of the same name. But instead of embodying the fictional character Rachel Marron, this superstar channeled every nuance of legendary Whitney Houston in what felt more like a tribute concert to the late, great diva. In fact, it felt more like an actual concert by Whitney herself -- So much so, that during one of her climactic moments, someone in the audience even shouted, "Whitney's in the house!"
Fans who are familiar with the movie won't care to make comparisons. This is a one-woman, show-stealing vocal inferno, blazing out Houston's most most memorable songs, ranging from the playful "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" to the tender "I Have Nothing" to the anthem, "One Moment in Time" and then ultimately to her show-stopping number, "I Will Always Love You." Each song is a trip down memory lane, including Whitney's earliest years with "The Greatest Love of All," "All At Once" and remembering her rich religious roots with "Jesus Loves Me." Along with her astounding vocal chops, Cox also proves that she is an effective actress and, in my opinion, magnifies a stronger chemistry with her counterpart than the original film version.
For those unfamiliar, THE BODYGUARD follows the story of former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, who is hired to protect pop sensation Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker. A romantic thriller featuring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner in the 1992 film, both end up falling in love amidst danger, adventure, and other romantic conflict.
Judson Mills as Frank Farmer portrays just the right balance of masculine gallantry, yet has an awkward coyness as he falls for Marron. He is endearing and a hopeless romantic at heart, with a strong will to protect and serve. Jasmin Richardson, who plays Rachel's sister Nicki, although not as much a commanding powerhouse, displays an effortless ease to her singing, especially when she performs the duet with Cox, "Run to You." Douglas Baldeo is charming and has smooth dance moves as Rachel's young son (who alternates the role with Kevelin B. Jones III), and Jorge Paniagua is intense and creepy as the stalker.
The ensemble performs well and brings adhesion to the story. The choreography by Karen Bruce is swift and lively under the fine direction of Thea Sharrock, offering a wide range of dancing and acrobatics. Costume designs by Tim Hatley are bright and realistic for the period, and Marron's dresses add glitz and glamour to the production.
The set projections are unimpressive and often distracting, taking the focus away from the actual performers and seemingly intrusive and oddly voyeuristic.
Although the plot is thin, THE BODYGUARD is fully entertaining, bringing nostalgia and dignity to a great icon whom we will always love.
THE BODYGUARD plays at the Ohio Theatre through February 19. Tickets can be purchased in person at 39 E. State Street, Columbus, Ohio, by phone at (614) 469-1045, or by visiting http://www.capa.com/
*Note* Deborah Cox will NOT be performing the role of Rachel Marron for the Saturday Matinee and Sunday Evening performances.