After beginning its 2016-2017 season with three knockout shows in a row, the Orpheum theater seemed to be on something of a winning streak. Unfortunately, The Bodyguard, the latest installment, has broken that streak. With a muddy storyline and overall confusing stylistic choices, it fails to live up to its predecessors as a cohesive piece.
The Bodyguard chronicles the evolution of the complicated relationship between popstar Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox), who begins receiving invasive, threatening letters from a stalker (Jorge Paniagua), and professional bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), who steps in to protect her from harm and catch the culprit.
The set design and flow is nothing new or radical, but the pre-show setup serves as a kind of precursor to the underwhelming act that follows; the entire stage is obstructed by a wall, on which the title is projected. There’s no effort made to evoke any kind of interest in you. That excited, impatient stirring in your stomach as you wait for the show to start is notably amiss, and a pallid indifference sits in its place as the stage unceremoniously slaps you in the face with the same image that’s on the cover of the playbill.
The Bodyguard’s most fatal flaw is its overall lack of clarity, which bleeds into every part of the show. During intermission, I heard other audience members around me trying to figure out what time period it was supposed to be set in. Despite the abundance of pop from the 80s and early 90s, the costumes contained an odd mix of fashion from the late 90s and early 2000s, while the technology the characters used wouldn’t fit in any time period other than the 2010s. There were many times I looked at the stage and found I couldn’t name half the characters or what purpose they served. It was distracting. Too many loose ends are left untied, too many questions unanswered, and any emotion the audience feels is clothed in a heavy overcoat of confusion.
As is the problem with many jukebox musicals, the songs in The Bodyguard don’t seem to have any real connection or relevance to the plot, as if they were just shoehorned into an unrelated story. To make matters worse, some of the shoehorning is downright lazy, the best example being a completely random, context-free performance of “I’m Every Woman” jammed between two serious scenes.
But, of course, it’s not all bad. The cast is composed of what are arguably the best singers the Orpheum has hosted thus far this season. Deborah Cox’s voice is reminiscent of stars like Tina Turner, Beyoncé, and, of course, Whitney Houston. Other highlights include Judson Mills, who seems to have found the perfect balance of likeability and gruff snark to play Frank, Jasmin Richardson’s beautiful, melancholy rendition of “Saving All My Love”, and Jorge Paniagua’s hauntingly realistic portrayal of the Stalker. The show-stopping, well-choreographed number just after the curtain call will have you standing in your seat and dancing like no one’s watching.
If you come to see The Bodyguard looking for a concert, you won’t be disappointed, but the same cannot be said for those looking to see a Broadway show.