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The Bodyguard: Stage play highlights famous film, music of Whitney Houston

MIKE McGEE | 8/14/2017, 12:40 a.m.
The musical The Bodyguard could just as easily have been called The Whitney Houston Showcase. The stage presentation – recently ...
From left: Judson Mills as Frank Farmer, Jasmin Richardson as Nicki Marron, Kevelin B. Jones III as Fletcher and Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard. Joan Marcus

The Dallas Examiner

– Musical Review –

The musical The Bodyguard could just as easily have been called The Whitney Houston Showcase. The stage presentation – recently part of the Dallas Summer Musicals program and the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth – contains so many of the songstresses’ hits, along with beloved tunes of lesser fame, that the show is more a framework of fan-favorite numbers than a fully developed action-romance drama.

This isn’t a bad thing when it comes to glitzy Broadway musicals. Those familiar with the 1992 Warner Brothers film written by Lawrence Kasdan will notice there are not a lot of surprises in the show, and in fact the intricacy of the script has been scaled back.

The plot has been updated and now focuses more equally on superstar singer Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) and her personal bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) as he tries to protect her from a gifted but lethal stalker (Jorge Paniagua); other plot devices have been dropped entirely.

The end result is that The Bodyguard stage performance is more about the music and less of a thriller. Yet, for those audience members who loved the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner vehicle as well as those who have never seen it, this production will most likely cause even the most noncommittal audience members to leave the theater with, minimally, a favorite scene, song or character etched into their memories.

Grammy-nominated and platinum selling talent Cox is superbly cast as Rachel with the Broadway show cred of Aida and Jekyll & Hyde bolstering her star power. Even though Houston made the story and soundtrack famous, it is diva Deborah who controls the stage in this production. Musically, the show is all hers.

The overall production is presented very cleverly in a multimedia style through the use of video, computer animation, voiceovers and a few theater tricks to draw in the audience. The lack of a traditional opening – with a lowering of the lights and an orchestra overture – shocks people to attention. As lingering members of the crowd still find their seats the lights go out, there is a gunshot, and a gauzy scene appears onstage; a glimpse into one of Frank’s more perilous former assignments plays out. The timeline then shifts to a VH1-style live pop-rock show with dancers, light and smoke effects, and the queen herself, Rachel.

Throughout the musical, there are moments when the plot essentially ceases and the show simply become a live Whitney Houston revue – and Cox has the talent and ebullience to stop the show every time.

The lead actress is certainly capable of exhibiting both strength and vulnerability, but many of the moments of dramatic tension are shared through the expertise of Mills, Paniagua, Douglas Baldeo as Rachel’s son, Fletcher; Jasmine Richardson as her sister, Nicki (in a much more sympathetic role than depicted in the film); and Alex Corrado as Tony Scibelli, Rachel’s original, and jealous, bodyguard who eventually joins Team Frank.

An especially effective scene that emotionally forces the audience into the plot involves the shadowy stalker as he prepares to crash a major awards show, “rehearsing” for his special night. In his tuxedo and with a backstage pass around his neck, Paniagua pulls out a handgun, its laser sight guided slowly by his hand through the dark theater, section by section, a warning to us that he’s ready to kill, and will stop anyone – even the paying members of the real world - who try to get in his way. This was brilliant in terms of creating mental tautness and pulled the most quiet and subtle reaction from the crowd.