BWW Review: THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL Will Always Love Whitney at Broadway At The Hobby Center
THE BODYGUARD started off as a script written by Lawrence Kasdan in the '70s who pictured it as a project for Diana Ross and either Ryan O'Neal or Steve McQueen. That production never happened for many reasons, and it drifted around Hollywood for decades until Kevin Costner found it and made the movie that launched Whitney Houston into the stratosphere. In 1992 THE BODYGUARD was a huge box office success, but it was eclipsed by the incredible sales of the soundtrack and its highest charting single "I Will Always Love You." The general consensus at the time was you'd rather spin the record than see the film. A thin interracial romance and a not very action-packed thriller became a classic because of the incredible songs that sold everything to the world better than anything on the screen could. So is it any surprise when I tell you THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL is a silly thin story that rises up whenever a Whitney Houston song begins?
Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox or Jasmin Richardson) is an international singing star who is nominated for an Academy Award. She's at the top of her game, but somebody is stalking her and sending death threats. Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) gets strong-armed into heading up her security team and becomes the singer's personal bodyguard. They start off a rocky relationship that soon evolves into a deeper sense of love complicating things further. Also by Rachel's side are her sister (Jasmin Richardson or Dequina Moore) and young son Fletcher (played alternately by Douglas Baldeo and Kevelin B Jones III) who both grow to see Frank as something more than just a simple guard.
This tour is headlined by Deborah Cox, a soul and pop singer who has enjoyed her own success with songs like "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here." She has gotten solid reviews in other cities, but unfortunately I did not get to see her. On opening night in Houston Cox was replaced by understudy Jasmin Richardson who managed to capture a nice take on the character of Rachel and her own spin on the songs by Whitney. Her best moment was the climactic delivery of "I Will Always Love You" which had people cheering right from the first notes. She struggled with the funkier numbers such as "Queen of the Night", but as an actress she was up to the challenge of making us fall for Rachel. She cuts some of the harshness present in the Whitney Houston film version and tempers her line delivery well for the stage. She's charming, gorgeous, and has the right voice for the power ballads.
Judson Mills as Frank Farmer gets a tougher time because he has to rely solely on the clunky script since his character does not sing. He does an excellent job with the rougher side of the bodyguard who is all business, but falters when he has to show the vulnerability of a man in love with his client. I didn't always buy his passion for Rachel, and that made things less effective than seeing Kevin Costner moon for Whitney Houston. The chemistry was lacking between Rachel and her unlikely suitor.
The rest of the ensemble is just fine filling out the world of dancers, fans, and other supporting players. Dequina Moore stood out the night I saw her perform Rachel's sister, although this was an understudy swap to compensate for Deborah Cox being replaced. DeQuina has a pleasing voice, and gave a soul to a part that has always been underwritten even from the movie script. Also of note are the hunky male dancers who back up Rachel in performances who are chosen for "eye candy" rather than any dance ability. They were stiff, but had excellent abdominals on display. It's a campy fun touch to have Rachel Marron flanked by a troop from Chippendale's.
Technically the show is uniquely executed with a set that frames everything in a cinematic aspect ratio. You see lots of lights, smoke, and these interesting rectangles that close in and expand to make scenes look more cinematic in composition. There is also an interesting use of scrims that have filmed segments projected on them. The musical tries to look like the movie at any opportunity it has.
If I had to pick why you should go to THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL it is you get a dazzling retrospective of Whitney Houston's catalog of hits on the stage. In the original film there were maybe a half dozen songs on the soundtrack by the diva, but this production adds more to the mix including "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", "All the Man That I Need", "How Will I Know", "One Moment in Time", "Saving All My Love", "So Emotional", "Million Dollar Bill", and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go". It's a night to celebrate Whitney, and the plot is inconsequential when you realize how many amazing songs she produced in her career. This is a jukebox musical which serves up some serious hits by one of the most important pop artists of our time.
THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL is one of those shows that offers up little else but a warm nostalgia for the original material, but thankfully the source is strong enough to make you tap your toes and smile from ear to ear. Whitney Houston is an artist for the ages, and she deserves the tribute of a jukebox musical that offers so much reverence to her legacy. This one is campy fun, although I sense the stronger the leading star the better the experience. Just pray you get tickets for when Deborah Cox actually shows up, although the rest of the cast is fine enough to carry you through. Much like the movie, you will remember the music far longer than you do the details of the plot.
THE BODYGUARD THE MUSICAL Tickets can be purchased through the Hobby Center's web site at http://www.thehobbycenter.org/ or directly from Ticket Master at http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/475611/1721733?q=BodyguardTickets . The show only runs through August 20th. It is part of the BBVA Compass Broadway at the Hobby Center series.