BWW Review: THE BODYGUARD National Tour at Dallas Summer Musicals
Like a burst of light, Whitney Houston put herself on the movie screen map with her performance in the 1992 Warner Bros. blockbuster hit, THE BODYGUARD, leaving a long-lasting impression in our hearts and in the music industry. But, it appears that lightning won't be striking twice with this title, as the current stage attempt creates musical magic, but falls short of memorable.
Both THE BODYGUARD movie and musical showcase fictional pop star Rachel Marron at the peak of her career as she prepares for her first potential Grammy Award win. But, as an obsessed fan pursues her, Marron is reluctantly paired with a full-time bodyguard, Frank Farmer, who vows to protect her at any cost. The stakes are heightened after Farmer has a near fling with Marron's overshadowed sister Nicki, but soon finds himself in his celebrity client's bed. But Farmer must overcome all obstacles to ensure Marron's safety, and he only has a couple scenes and a handful of hit songs to make it all happen!
Now on tour at Dallas Summer Musicals' Music Hall at Fair Park, THE BODYGUARD is a hodgepodge of a Jukebox musical featuring songs of Whitney Houston and a screen-to-stage movie musical transformation. And, although the show struggles in many of the typical stage essentials - like developed characters, a driving plot and a cohesive script - the production numbers and famous musical moments often manage to win over the crowd, who were more than happy to sing along with the show's finale on opening night.
Making her mark on the celebrated leading role is Deborah Cox, whose work (sans any famous stalker tales) mirrors the pop icon on stage. Ms. Cox herself is a Grammy nominated singer (of "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" fame) with multiple platinum accolades. She's also no stranger to the stage, having starred on Broadway in JEKYLL & HYDE and as a replacement in the title role of AIDA, where she debuted a compelling and memorable performance. Although THE BODYGUARD does little to showcase Ms. Cox's full range of talents, she shines any chance she gets to wail on Whitney's greatest hits, belting tunes like "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," "I Will Always Love You," and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go."
Without a fair balance of attention given to script-verses-song (and a less-than-amateur attempt at effectively written scenes), few moments allow the audience to fully empathize with the characters on stage. Yet, despite her greatly underdeveloped role, Jasmin Richardson delivers a vibrant performance as Nicki Marron, the sister living in her sibling's shadows. Ms. Richardson's character never quite achieves the status of her sister's pop career, but it's quite clear that the actress is ready for great success any moment she opens her mouth. In a unique casting situation, Richardson serves as understudy for Cox, despite being the secondary female lead in the show. (And it's worth noting that my colleagues across the country have unanimously raved about her performance as Rachel; so, fear not if she steps into the spotlight while the tour is in town.)
Had book writer Alexander Dinelaris been kicked to the curb and director Thea Sharrock and choreographer Karen Bruce been allowed to better focus on producing a concert of Whitney Houston's career highlights, there would be little disappointment in this attempted jukebox-in-disguise musical. But this restructuring of THE BODYGUARD does nothing to enhance the material, only weakening the narrative with 16 songs rarely utilized to further the storytelling. Garish projections, used in an effort to cinematize the stage show, drag the show to a cheap and cheesy level, despite a skilled and seductive cast who manage to keep the audience engaged in each and every lively song.
It's no surprise that THE BODYGUARD pursued a US Tour in favor of a Broadway bow, especially given its lukewarm reception in its West End debut (starring theatre icon Heather Headley). There's certainly something to be found in the source material provided by the feature film, and the use of Whitney Houston's catalogue may sound like a perfect match, but the ingredients seem to clash without a stronger chef in the kitchen. And, although I'm usually reticent to recommend that a ticket buyer not support our local arts scene, I can't help but note that a ticket to ANY show in DSM's upcoming season might be a more worthwhile investment.
THE BODYGUARD continues at Dallas Summer Musicals through July 30th, which then leaves the theatre dark until Bernadette Peter's November 4th concert. Their Broadway series continues in December with WHITE CHRISTMAS, followed by THE COLOR PURPLE (January 23rd-February 4th), ON YOUR FEET (February 27th-March 11th), WAITRESS (March 28th-April 8th), LES MISERABLES (April 24th-May 6th), THE LION KING (June 13th-July 8th), LOVE NEVER DIES (July 24th-August 5th), SCHOOL OF ROCK (August 15th-26th), and then HAMILTON and ALADDIN in the 2018-2019 season. Tickets and more information are available at www.DallasSummerMusicals.org.