Chicago Theatre Review
A Whitney Houston Songbook
The Bodyguard – Broadway in Chicago
A 1992 mega hit film, starring the incomparable singer, Whitney Houston, in her acting debut, and a stoic Kevin Costner, as the titular hero, became a universally favorite cinematic romantic thriller. It also spawned a bestselling soundtrack album that’s still popular twenty-five years later. In 2012, with the unstoppable trend of transferring popular movies into theatrical musicals, this story was brought to the stage in a tuneful adaptation by Alexander Dinelaris. The musical is set today, with the character of the pop singer, Rachel Marron, and her sister and personal assistant, Nicki, given more focus. Frank Farmer, the new private security officer hired to protect Rachel from a mad stalker, is still the handsome, strong and silent type who eventually succumbs to his client’s romantic charms.
The musical’s plot isn’t very different from the movie, although some details have been eliminated or glossed over. A very popular singer receives threatening letters, ominous phone calls, and unexpected visits from a dangerous fan who’s obsessed with her. The threat of danger becomes serious enough for Rachel’s manager to hire a new, personal bodyguard to protect the diva, her sister and Fletcher, her 10-year-old son. Rachel and Frank, two strong personalities used to being in total control, butt heads from the very beginning. However, they eventually fall in love, creating a jealous rift between the two sisters. The stalker grows even bolder, physically endangering both Fletcher and Nicki, ending with a tragic, climactic showdown taking place live, in front of cameras, at the Academy Awards.
Today the story is considered trite, partially because it’s adapted from a film with which almost everyone is familiar. It’s also the kind of situation that seems to occur everyday with alarming regularity in this violent, media-obsessed world. Headlines are always telling about some celebrity or politician who’s been pursued by a crazed fan. Thankfully, in the fictional world of the theatre, good triumphs over evil. Yet, despite how the plot ties up all the loose ends, the musical still has a bittersweet conclusion.
Thea Sharrock’s production, with vibrant, gravity-defying choreography by Karen Bruce, is sharp and laced with tension. Some of this comes from the omnipresent stalker, always lurking in the shadows; but a good portion of the tension is between the three leading characters. Pop star Deborah Cox is lovely, strong and in fine voice as Rachel Marron, the diva whose life is in danger. Ruggedly handsome Judson Mills makes a convincing tough good guy, although he shows a soft, paternal side with young Fletcher (played with flair opening night by Douglas Baldeo). One of the show’s greatest surprises is Jasmin Richardson, as Nicki. She’s an excellent vocalist with a gift for creating a deep, heartfelt character. Ms. Richardson is a musical actress to watch.
Rachel and Frank’s best scene is a secret, impromptu date at the bodyguard’s favorite karaoke club. Losing a bet with Rachel, Frank’s coerced into singing his own meek rendition of “I Will Always Love You.” Rachel eventually steps up to the mic and rocks out a stunning “I Have Nothing,” revealing the pop star’s true identity for the bar patrons, including her stalker (played with menace and determination by Jorge Paniagua). Frank and Nicki also have a tender moment when the hunky bodyguard follows her to a nightclub where Nicki performs “Saving All My Love,” hoping to launch her own singing career and freeing herself from living in Rachel’s shadow.
In fact, the show’s real strength is the performance of more than two dozen of Whitney Houston’s hits. They’re sung with power and conviction, flooding our memory with a reminder of a talented, much-loved performer who, sadly, left us far too soon. The production opens with a splashy “Queen of the Night,” accompanied by an excellent ensemble of terrific backup singers and extraordinary dancers. The show continues with more favorite tunes, such as “All At Once,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I’m Every Woman,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “One Moment in Time,” “Run to You,” “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” and many more, turning this show into a veritable Whitney Houston songbook.
Stage adaptations of popular films show no signs of slowing down. They’re going to be with us forever, it seems. This musical, first presented in London five years ago, is an unexpected pleasure. It’s not a great show. It’s not enlightening, doesn’t break any new ground, nor does it teach any lessons. But it’s fun escapism and offers an exciting, thrilling story set to a familiar, likable score. While the selling point of this show is definitely the great hits of Whitney Houston, it’s also peppered with some breathtaking, acrobatic choreography. The story is entertaining and thrilling, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. Produced with high tech scenic, projection and lighting design, as well as with some stunning, stylish costumes and wigs, this limited engagement makes a hot diversion for escaping the cold winter nights.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 30-February 12 by Broadway in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, at all Ticketmaster locations, by calling the Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.