Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Bodyguard The Musical
One thing I was not familiar with, or somehow missed, was the 1992 Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston movie that this bright and brassy film-to-stage musical is based on. I dimly recall that reviews of the film were tepid, and that it was a hit. At the time, Whitney was America's undisputed sweetheart and the soundtrack featured several top-10 hits. I was a little surprised that one of London's West End producers decided to build a show around the movie but, while I'll be the first to admit that the book is nothing to write home about, I found the musical to be sweet, escapist fun. It made me want to dance with somebody.
The Bodyguard The Musical features songs from the movie and a few other late 1980s or early 1990s classics. Most are performed by Grammy nominee and Broadway vet, Deborah Cox, who plays Rachel Marron with a light touch that is just right for the occasion. Cox is the kind of double-threat singer who can go to town belting out "I'm Every Woman," then turn around to pour her heart out in a sultry-sweet rendition of "Saving All My Love." Cox wisely avoids trying to recapture Whitney's sound and vocal style, and her achingly beautiful rendition of the movie's signature ballad, "I Will Always Love You", is 100% her own. She's terrific, and so are co-stars, Judson Mills in the titular (Kevin Costner) role of Frank Farmer, and Jasmin Richardson as Nicki Marron, the lonesome sister who is eternally outshone by her celebrity sibling.
So the story goes like this: Rachel Marron, a pop superstar, receives anonymous death threats from a stalker. Her manager Bill Devaney (Charles Gray) and publicist Sy Spector (Jonathan Hadley) decide to hire a professional bodyguard and they want only the best: the hard-to-get Frank Farmer, who once worked in the Secret Service. Frank left the Service after he took off the very day that President Ronald Reagan got shot, and now he can't forgive himself. Protecting celebrities is kind of slumming for him, but he's a pro and works hard at his duties. Naturally, the romantic leads can't stand each other at first, but it doesn't take long before they melt into each other's armsat a karaoke bar, of all placesin the best scene of the show. Meanwhile, Frank gets his government pals to help him generate a detailed profile of Rachel's stalker. Unfortunately, Frank is unable to track the creepy guy down before the star's upcoming appearance at the Academy Awards. She decides that "the show must go on" regardless, and then ... Well, I'll leave it there for other types who missed the movie and don't want a spoiler.
Some may raise their eyebrows at the rash of film-to-musical productions which have been dominating stage space on Broadway and in London's West End, but, like them or not, they fill the seats and they seem to be here to stay. Personally, I enjoy the high production values and the live orchestra, and if you're going to build a play around an only so-so '90s genre movie, you could do a lot worse than hiring a Grammy-nominated Broadway vet to perform a bunch of R&B and pop classics that still haven't worn out their welcome.
Part of the charm of this production is that it doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is, which is a big, lovely, shiny ball of derivative fluff, which indirectly pays homage to a beloved diva who died too young. The same goes for the performance style. The best way to carry off roles that are essentially composites of movie clichés, and that were designed primarily as star vehicles, is to perform them with a light touch. Not for a moment does anyone in this talented cast try to impose undue psychological depth upon these characters. They play their parts earnestly, but they also have loads of fun with themand the audience does as well. If you can dig the "no-big-deal-ness" of the whole enterprise, you'll have a good timeand an excuse for revisiting some soulful tunes and snappy oldies. Just don't go expecting to be enlightened about anything except the fabulousness of Deborah Cox.
The Bodyguard: The Musical appeared through January 15, 2017, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403. For more information on the tour, visit www.thebodyguardmusical.com.
Directed by Thea Sharrock