If you’re really wishing you could’ve seen a Whitney Houston concert, the next best thing you can get now is seeing The Bodyguard. It’s a dramatic love story, where all-business bodyguard, Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) is assigned to protect bossy popstar Rachel Marron from a stalker, who threatens to kill her at the height of her career. They predictably fall in love, but Rachel’s career and Frank’s job interfere with their relationship.
Modeled after the 1992 movie starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, the musical plot doesn’t completely match the film. It’s honestly more like someone decided to intersperse overly dramatic or dramatically underwhelming scenes between songs made famous by Whitney Houston, than a true Broadway musical, where the music was written to convey the story. It is comparable to Mama Mia, except The Bodyguard is much less dependent on having an impressive array of amazing minor characters and the music doesn’t always completely match what's happening in the plot.
Firstly, a warning: the show starts with a gunshot and the lights all suddenly go out. In a time when random shootings seem to become more frequent, this was very startling. After that initial moment of shock, the show coasts on Deborah Cox’s powerhouse vocals. She really shows off her vocal skill on I Have Nothing and All The Man That I Need. Cox has got the ambitious, controlling diva attitude down, but her moments with her son, Fletcher (Douglas Baldeo), don’t have the same ring of authenticity. Each scene is punctuated with a fun dance number or a power ballad, sung by either Rachel, her sister Nikki (Jasmin Richardson), and far too occasionally, Fletcher. Baldeo is a triple threat: he’s adorable, a great dancer, and can sing well enough to steal the attention away from his character’s mother for a while.
Judson Mills obviously tried to create a strong and silent version of Frank Farmer, but mostly came across as stiff. His only redeeming moment is his intentionally awful rendition of I Will Always Love You, which Frank performs for Rachel on their first date. The chemistry between Cox and Mills is barely existent. I found myself rooting for Frank to end up with Nikki, rather than Rachel.
The rest of the minor characters don’t make much of an impression, other than one scene where three ridiculously drunk girls sing a karaoke version of Where Do Broken Hearts Go. The ensemble women are incredible dancers and actresses, but aren’t showcased nearly enough. When they do get to show off during dance numbers, the show becomes magical, like theatre theatre is supposed to feel, when everyone on stage and in the audience is feeling the music. The curtain call is the best example of this synergy. The entire cast comes out to stand or dance a safe distance behind superstar Deborah Cox, as she sings I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and even graciously allows Baldeo and Richardson to sing a couple lines. Unfortunately, The Bodyguard feels more like The Deborah Cox Show than a musical, romantic thriller. Don’t get me wrong, Cox is one of the best singers I’ve heard come through the Orpheum, but a musical should not completely hinge on one performer.