In THE BODYGUARD, cheese factor is high but Whitney fans won’t care
– By Cate Marquis –
Whitney Houston fans can relive her biggest movie hit and thrill to her music in THE BODYGUARD, on stage at the Fabulous Fox theater, Oct. 3 – 15. The cheese factor is high in this show but Whitney fans won’t care, since it also delivers rousing versions of her greatest song hits.
R&B star Deborah Cox plays the Whitney Houston role and belts out several of her hits. There are some changes from the 1992 Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner film on which it is based. The story is updated a bit – there are cell phones now – but some 1990s costumes remain. The plot is paired down to make room for more Whitney Houston songs. It is no real loss, as the story is basic anyway, and the songs are real crowd-pleasers in this production.
Superstar Rachel Marron (Cox) has received threatening letters from a stalker (Jorge Paniagua) so her staff hires a former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (Judson Mills, in the Kevin Costner role) to protect her. Actually, her staff – manager Bill (Charles Gray), security head Tony (Alex Corrado), and publicist Sy (Jonathan Hadley) – have concealed the threatening letters her, fearing if she knew she would become too upset to work, who is rehearsing for an upcoming show at the Oscars, where one of her songs has been nominated. The star’s entourage includes her sister and songwriting partner Nikki, played poignantly by Jasmin Richardson, and her ten-year-old son Fletcher (Kevelin B. Jones II who alternates in the role with Sebastian Maynard-Palmer). The no-nonsense Farmer turns down the job at first, saying he does not work for show business celebrities, but changes his mind after he meets the star’s bright young son, with whom he quickly bonds. Rachel angrily resists the idea of a bodyguard but eventually gives in under pressure from her staff. The star operates out of her mansion, where large numbers of people come and go and security is lax, which brings the new bodyguard into conflict with everyone. But when the stalker strikes again, everything changes.
Fans will welcome this chance to revive Whitney Houston’s music and legend. The visual money shot in this show is when the bodyguard scoops up the star and carries her away from danger, which comes fairly early in the musical. The musical money shot is Whitney’s hit “I Will Always Love You,” which comes near the end of the show.
The musical highlights the moment when the bodyguard picks up the star in a cheesy, over-the-top bit that includes a video projection between the actors that recreates the famous movie poster, one of several cheesy bits using video. The musical money shot “I Will Always Love You” is featured in a show-stopper production number which the eager fan-packed crowd stopped several times with cheers and applause in their excitement. Despite the interruptions, Cox made it through the song in style.
Other songs include “Run to You,” “So Emotional,” I Wanna Dance with Someone,” “One Moment in Time,” and “Saving All My Love,” some of which are incorporated in the story and others done as song-and-dance production numbers. The staging is nice and the dancers are entertaining, but this is a pretty cheesy story and it works best when the cast embrace the cheddar, as in the karaoke scene. Besides Mills’ rendition of the big hit, a trio of female dancers offer a very funny drunken song routine.
Cox has a nice voice, and has performed Whitney Houston songs for other productions. She does not try to imitate Houston’s voice, and in the show, she looks more like Beyounce than Whitney. Cox is a better singer than an actress and there is little romantic chemistry between her and Judson Mills in the Costner role. Mills does not sing but does deliver the show’s funniest moment in spoken karaoke version of the Whitney’s biggest hit. Jasmin Richardson as the overlooked sister is a better actress than Cox and gets to show off her fine voice a couple of times too, a voice that actually sounds stronger and richer that Cox’s. As the stalker, Jorge Paniagua has no lines but still effectively projects a sense of sexy menace, often while shirtless.
The staging involves use of video and a lighted frame on the stage, that shrinks down to focus on a scene on stage. There are several well-down singing and dancing numbers. The cast bows were followed by a few more Whitney songs, including numbers by Richardson and Paniagua, showing off that he can sing as well as act. Jorge Paniagua and Jasmin Richardson are the understudies for the leads, and it would be interesting to see a production in which they both take those roles, where they might generate more romantic heat.
THE BODYGUARD is a Whitney Houston fan’s delight, letting them remember her and her music in a n affectionate production.
© Cate Marquis