BWW Review: Highs and Lows at THE BODYGUARD: THE MUSICAL
The musical THE BODYGUARD is based on the 1992 film of the same name, which is best known for Whitney Houston's cover of the song "I Will Always Love You". It's rather telling that that movie is famous for a song rather than the story, and that seems to have been the impetus behind relaunching as a musical. This stage version follows the plot of the movie loosely--a famous singer has a stalker which requires hiring a more disciplined bodyguard, danger and romance ensue; but the stage version relies much more on vocal talents than acting. The casting of Grammy award winner Deborah Cox is a clear signal that this is more music focused than plot driven, but even so, walking the line between concert and musical doesn't come easy for this production, even though the performances are largely quite satisfying.
Deborah Cox as pop-star Rachel Marron, is the clear star of this production, and Ms. Cox brings a charisma and extraordinary vocal talent that without which, this production would just be mediocre at best. It is worth the price of admission to listen to her sing and watch her perform for two hours, and the trouble lies primarily with the narrative, which just seems like it's there to pad out the time between songs. That's not to say there isn't some good to this story.
There are moments that are genuinely funny and sweet. Some excellent staging ramps up the feeling of danger at all the right times, and the lighting mimics concert pyrotechnics very effectively. The role of the sister, who was barely in the movie, has been increased and actress Jasmin Richardson as Nikki Marron really brings some needed empathy, as well as some powerful vocal talents. Kevelin B. Jones III as Fletcher, Rachel Marron's 10-year-old son is clearly a star in the making and he has the voice and moves of a young Michael Jackson.
What, unfortunately, makes the story not really take hold, is the complete lack of chemistry between Cox and the man who plays her bodyguard Frank Farmer, Judson Mills. Ms. Cox is serviceable as an actress, but the role of Frank Farmer, the man she "will always love" is an incredibly wooden and undemonstrative role, as one would expect a bodyguard to be. Honestly, there is more easy familiarity between Fletcher, the 10-year-old and Farmer than there is between Farmer and Marron. Judson Mills may be a fine actor, this role makes it hard to see his talent, but the juxtaposition of a less experienced actress next to a rather boring character, makes for a snooze in the romance department.
The song choices for this musical are also rather unexpected and odd. There is no original music in this musical, instead the songs from the movie soundtrack that Whitney Houston sang are featured, along with some of her personal greatest hits like "How Will I Know", "Saving All My Love", "One Moment in Time" and "So Emotional". The result is some kind of weird Whitney Houston musical tribute, within the skin of The Bodyguard. In one scene, the character Rachel Marron is writing the song "The Greatest Love of All" on a piano, which is a song Whitney Houston didn't even write. It's a treat to hear Cox sing all these songs, but it also feels like the audience is being gaslighted into thinking the movie The Bodyguard was based on true events from Whitney Houston's life, which it most emphatically was not.
The Bodyguard makes for a perplexing night at the theatre, but almost all is forgiven when the audience finally gets what they came for, which is Deborah Cox, in a sparkly gown belting out "I Will Always Love You". What she may lack as an actress, she more than makes up for as a singer and performer, which seems to be a theme of this production--mix the good with the middling, and finish strong.
The Bodyguard runs January 9-14 at Providence Performing Arts Center 220 Weybosset St Providence, Rhode Island 02903. Tickets are available at ppacri.org, or by calling (401) 421 - ARTS (2787)