In The Bodyguard, now at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, there are some terrific and very well known songs that are sung by two women and one boy who are so talented and charismatic that you cannot help but fall in love with them. Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron, Jasmin Richardson as her sister, and Kevelin B. Jones III as her 10-year-old son, light up the stage whenever they appear. Ms. Cox is a marvel – beautiful and talented, with a voice that would make the angels sit in awe. Unfortunately, they are all being held hostage inside of a musical that does not reach the same heights.
The Bodyguard is based on the 1992 movie that was Whitney Houston’s film debut as the superstar singer, Rachel Marron. Kevin Costner co-starred as Frank Farmer, the former Secret Service agent hired to protect her from a stalker. The script was written as a romantic thriller by Lawrence Kasdan, and the soundtrack recording is the highest grossing of all time. The movie was a worldwide hit, with the song “I Will Always Love You”, written by Dolly Parton, becoming a mega-hit for Ms. Houston. In other words, the movie has chops and offers a great opportunity for the stage musical to add more music to a decent plot with fully-fleshed characters.
This production is neither very thrilling nor very romantic. Deborah Cox fills the charisma bill as Rachel, but Judson Mills as her lover Frank is so stalwart as to be almost frozen in place. He is not a magnetic presence. In addition, he has an old-fashioned mother complex foisted on him. He has a very jarring exchange with 10-year-old Fletcher during a bonding scene. In the course of their conversation, Fletcher points out to Frank that his mother was a girl. Frank replies, “She wasn’t a girl. She was a broad.” What sort of person would say that about his mother, and then what sort of person would say it to a 10-year-old? Kind of creepy. He is not given much to work with, and that may be part of the problem. He does have an opportunity to make a fool of himself singing in a karaoke bar, and he rises to that occasion in a rather charming way. That may be his finest moment.
The romance between Rachel and Frank does not so much blossom as appear fully formed out of nowhere. Why does she fall in love with him? No idea. Then he all of a sudden ends it because of one sentence from a Secret Service friend. It is as if the director wants to get the details of the story out of the way for the often overwrought production numbers.
The production is frenetic. Walls move almost constantly, lights flash, and huge projections of people on a screen cover the entire stage at times. One example of this is the choices made by director Thea Sharrock while Rachel sings “I Will Always Love You,” the song almost everyone in the audience was waiting for and knew was coming. Rachel begins the song offstage as Frank leaves through a door upstage. She then walks onto the dimly lit stage in casual dress still singing, and then a screen comes down in front of her, which then projects a huge black and white image of Frank in a suit, as she continues the song. She stands stage left singing to huge virtual Frank and looks very tiny all of a sudden, like Gulliver in the Land of the Giants. Then she disappears from the stage as the screen shows her first in bed with Frank, then dressed kissing and then hugging same. She then magically reappears on a bright stage in a black and silver gown to complete the song while actual Frank stands like a statue somewhat behind and to her right. And then lights flash and there is confetti. Whew!
Perhaps Ms. Sharrock lacks trust in Ms. Cox’s ability to carry the moment, or maybe she thinks this famous song needs more oomph, or maybe she just likes giant screen projections – it isn’t the only one in the show. There are a few odd ones of the stalker. Whatever her motivation, she took a poignant moment, a beautiful love song, and a stunning rendition of it, and turned it into a circus. Remarkably, even with all of this going on around her, Ms. Cox manages to hold the audience enthralled by her presence, and her voice, and her interpretation of the song.
On a brighter note:
Jasmin Richardson as Rachel’s talented, jealous sister, Nicki, has a great voice and holds her own throughout the evening. She adds dimension to a character that could have been a stereotype. She is a star in her own right and adds greatly to the proceedings. Kevelin B. Jones III as Fletcher is a delight and steals every scene he is in. He sings and dances with the best of them, and has a sweetness about him that is endearing. Jonathon Hadley is good comic relief as Sy, Rachel’s manager.
And a huge plus for the show: the singing and dancing are truly outstanding. They shine through all of the weaknesses of the production.
To conclude: If you go to see The Bodyguard, go to see the performances by Deborah Cox, Jasmin Richardson, and Kevelin B. Jones III (caveat – he performs only on certain days. The other child actor may be just as wonderful). And go for the songs, the singing, and the dancing. Then you won’t be disappointed.