THE BODYGUARD: THE MUSICAL Opens The Fabulous Fox Broadway Series

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Deborah Cox in THE BODYGUARD: THE MUSICAL, Playing the Fox Theatre 10/3-10/15. Photo Credit: Fox Theatre

Hollywood is a funny place. Where else would you go to find a movie like 1992’s The Bodyguard starring cinema superstar Kevin Costner and pop diva Whitney Houston, which somehow manages to be mediocre at best but still manages to have the best selling soundtrack of all time? I know where else: Broadway. There isn’t a single property in Tinseltown that someone, somewhere, isn’t writing a book or songs for to turn that film into the next smash hit in Manhattan. Some of them work reasonably well—Bring It On and Sister Act were both pretty entertaining. Others, like Dirty Dancing and A Christmas Story, well, the less said about those the better. I’m not sure why someone thought The Bodyguard: The Musical would succeed where the film fell short, but nonetheless someone did and now its national tour has arrived to kick off the Fox Theatre’s 2017-2018 Broadway Series.

That may seem like a gloomy introduction, but to be honest I’m just never very excited about films adapted for the stage (or the reverse, for that matter). That said, I was reasonably well entertained. Judson Mills, a prototypical leading man with experience on the stage, television and film, is probably better suited for the roll of Frank Farmer than Costner was—he took himself far too seriously in those days. His co-star is Deborah Cox, a big star in her own right filling Whitney Houston’s shoes. No, wait, let me rephrase that. Cox is playing the role of Rachel Marron, not the roll of Whitney Houston. That’s an important distinction to make and not one that the St. Louis audience on Tuesday night entirely grasped. Cox herself is a multi-platinum artist, a three time Juno Award (the Canadian Grammy) winner and actually collaborated with Whitney on the duet “Same Script, Different Cast.” The audience seemed to find her acting to be good but “she’s no Whitney.” She wasn’t trying to be. She sang many of her songs the Deborah Cox way, and I think audiences should try to appreciate the subtle differences of a top star putting her own spin on familiar favorites. To put it another way, would you expect Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton or whomever you choose to do a perfect impression of Whitney for two hours? Of course you wouldn’t.  She’s also a capable actress, but she seems to play Rachel a little guarded, even when she doesn’t have to.

However, there’s internal pressure on Cox to be exactly that, with Jasmin Richardson as Rachel’s sister Nicki. Richardson does a very good Whitney, and the St. Louis audience gave her a perceptively bigger ovation than they gave Deborah Cox. She was certainly a highlight of the show, but she didn’t do that much comparatively. Among the rest of the supporting cast, Jonathan Hadley was excellent as Sy Spector and Kevelin B. Jones III was a delight as Fletcher, Rachel’s son. This youngster has a sure future if his dynamic young voice doesn’t get corrupted by those harsh teenage years. Other audience may enjoy seeing Sebastian Maynard-Palmer, who splits the Fletcher part with Kelevin from night to night as enforced by labor law. Sadly, the Assassin, played by Stefan Raulston, isn’t fleshed out at all. Every clue we get to his motivation is just spelled out for us by Frank’s pal at the Bureau.  

The sets and the lighting were quite nice. I enjoyed the “noir” feel of certain segments, where the sets seemed to sweep on into the rafters, giving Frank Farmer a more Dashiell Hammett kind of vibe than the Costner film offered.  Recreating the concert scenes from the film was a challenge that the show’s director, Thea Sharrock, pulled off pretty well, and the costumes were sharp, and occasionally required some semi-quick changes from Deborah Cox. The biggest technical issue of the night came from the sound engineer. As you may have heard, things have been rather tense in St. Louis lately and there were signs posted on the theatre’s doors warning the audience of loud gunshots and simulated gunfire. They tried to announce this via the sound system before the curtain went up, and they had to repeat it four times before everyone heard it. I was seated about 15 rows from the stage and had to strain to hear the actors’ lines during the first act, though the songs came through better. They finally seemed to figure it all out in time for the second act. As for the gunplay, it was mostly offstage or in abstract segments, and that seemed to weaken the emotional impact those important scenes could have had.

I think audiences will generally get out of it what they want to get from it. If you want a great love story for the ages, superbly acted and perfectly produced, The Bodyguard still isn’t going to cut it, live or on video. If you want a solid--occasionally excellent--Whitney Houston tribute performance, you’ll probably be satisfied.

The Bodyguard plays the Fabulous Fox Theatre October 3-15, 2017. For more information, please visit www.FabulousFox.com

Grade: 
3.0 / 5.0