The golden age of Broadway musicals saw many stage shows turned into classic films. But reversing that process has not always been as easy or successful and that trend unfortunately continues with THE BODYGUARD, a production that could more aptly be titled THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY instead of using the name of the hit 1992 movie.
THE GOOD – Deborah Cox, the overall cast (trying very hard to deliver with substandard material) and the musical numbers
THE BAD – The story structure and musical numbers that rarely fit the narrative
THE UGLY – Staging and musical cues meant to evoke fear that instead elicited laughs
For those not familiar with the source material, THE BODYGUARD is the story of Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox), a Grammy-winning singer and actress on the verge of winning an Oscar. She’s in the middle of a big publicity push and concert tour when threatening letters start to arrive. Her management team hires Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), a professional bodyguard, to keep Rachel, her sister Nicki (Houston native Jasmin Richardson who is also the alternate Rachel), and her young son Fletcher (Kevelin B. Jones III and Douglas Baldeo share this role – Jones III performed at Wednesday night’s show). I suspect you can connect the dots from here. The flimsy story is connected by a string of Whitney Houston hits (she starred as Rachel in the film). Unlike JERSEY BOYS or even MAMMA MIA! where the songs seem to at least come close to fitting the narrative, most of the numbers in this show are just there.
And that’s part of the problem with THE BODYGUARD. The story is so simple with little depth. What is the stalker’s motivation? Why do the romantic entanglements occur and what are the characters feeling? There are very few answers and the overall feeling is one of a rushed and contrived plot. I’m usually a sap at shows and most productions evoke some form of emotional response (I’m looking at you, LES MISERABLES). I saw THE LION KING for the fifth time last month and the opening number still brings a tear to the eye. But to borrow a line from one of the songs, with THE BODYGUARD “I Have Nothing.” The only time I felt any emotional connection was during Deborah Cox’s outstanding rendition of the Dolly Parton classic “I Will Always Love You.” Those few minutes were the one true highlight of the show, even if they were tainted by how this number was staged.
The direction and staging are not bad and often work effectively. Projections are frequently used to mixed success. When used as an accent to a scene or musical number, they are at their best. But there are times where they fall flat or or just plain odd. There are two uses of projections when the stalker is writing his letters or getting ready to follow Rachel. The first use, when writing the letter, makes sense. The second, when he’s getting dressed, has the projection behind the actor mimicking his movements…completely out of sequence. Not sure if this was intentional or not but it certainly felt unnecessary. The images used during the “I Will Always Love You” number are a “look back” at the story of Frank and Rachel but also feel a bit forced. They took away from what otherwise was a well-staged and powerful moment in the show.
THE BODYGUARD also has moments of humor, some of which I suspect the creative team wasn’t expecting. There is frequent (and sometimes downright corny) use of musical cues and loud noises to accentuate the appearances of the stalker. Yes, we know he’s a bad guy. This production goes off the rails to point this out and by the time Act Two arrives, it’s crossed over from the silly to the absurd. There is a point where he emerges from the shadows to approach Rachel. This would have worked perfectly without the silly musical stingers. Audiences at my performance were laughing at some of these moments when they should have been fearing for the main character’s safety.
The brightest part of this show is the cast, led by the wonderful Deborah Cox. She doesn’t imitate Whitney Houston outright but there’s enough of her there to satisfy fans. The musical numbers, while sometimes out of place, are excellent overall. Songs include “All at Once,” “Greatest Love of All,” “One Moment in Time” and “I’m Every Woman.” Some of the catalogue is delved out to other cast members, including Rachel’s sister Nikki singing “Saving All My Love for You.” Her voice was outstanding as well and it was easy to see why she is promoted to the lead role twice weekly. My only quibble with the cast was with the character of Klingman, Frank’s FBI contact. Matthew Schmidt, who usually plays the role, was out at my performance and his replacement stumbled over many of his lines, said them way too fast when he did get them out and just felt very stiff and rushed.
I overheard many patrons in the valet line saying how much they enjoyed the show and I imagine that if one is a fan of the film, this show will entertain. But it feels like a rough first draft of what could be an excellent production. Someone sitting in my row was shocked to hear that this show had never been to Broadway. Now we know why.
** out of *****
Based on the Warner Bros. Film
Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Broadway Across America – The Hobby Center
Now through August 20th
Photo: Judson Mills as Frank Farmer and Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron in “The Bodyguard” at Broadway Across America at The Hobby Center