BY SANDY STAGGS
A blockbuster romantic thriller as source material and a score encompassing practically the full canon of Whitney Houston’s number one and top ten hits. What’s not to love about “The Bodyguard: The Musical”?
I wish I could figure that out. “The Bodyguard” has all the elements for greatness. Whitney fans, I among them, should dig this show, as well as all women (and some men) who adored the Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston 1992 film. But “The Bodyguard,” whose producers announced a West End opening the same month Houston died suddenly in 2012, is disjointed, bizarre and without heart.
And though it never transferred to Broadway and went straight to touring mode, the built-in fan base should assure a profitable run.
The story is skimmed from Lawrence Kasden’s screenplay with some minor changes, including shrinking the part of The Bodyguard to a wistful shadow of Costner’s retired Secret Service agent Frank Framer, played here by Judson Mills, who is hired to protect pop superstar Rachel Marron (Grammy nominee and R&B star Deborah Cox) from an unnamed stalker (a creepy Jorge Paniagua).
The musical literally opens with a bang and a superfluous backstory scene, but the show really finds its musical footing in Rachel’s live concert rendition of “Queen of the Night,” one of the handful of songs taken from the film’s soundtrack, replete with impressive concert smoke and lighting effects.
Cox unfortunately was trapped in Irma airline turmoil on opening night, but Jasmin Richardson (who usually plays younger sister Nicki, valiantly stepped into Rachel’s shoes with aplomb.
No one can replace or duplicate Whitney, though patrons are expecting a reasonable facsimile, and that’s what Richardson conveyed in a bevy of nostalgic ballads from the 1980s and 1990s such as “Greatest Love of All,” “So Emotional,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “Run to You,” “I Have Nothing” and “One Moment In Time.”
But it was DeQuina Moore stepping in as Nicki who stole hearts and souls on opening night with her magnificent “Saving All My Love” and “All At Once.”
And as anticipated from the film’s pinnacle scene, Richardson slayed Houston’s all-time most popular recording “I Will Always Love You.” Brava. Brava. Brava. Her faithful interpretation was so outstanding that one can almost forgive a lackluster book (Alexander Dinelaris), muddled direction (Thea Sharrock), and a complete absence of chemistry between the lead characters.
Farmer, by the way, doesn’t sing at all, except in a reductive karaoke scene, therefore all but assuring emotional mining is a one-sided. And the infamous scene in which Farmer saves his woman from The Stalker and picks her up in his arms happens so flippantly that it comes across as a squandered opportunity to retain some semblance of romance.
But Rachel’s son Fletcher, embodied on this evening by an energetic Kevelin B. Jones III, does join in the proceedings on a couple of dance-and-song numbers including “How Will I Know” and does so ebulliently.
It’s been decades since I have watched “The Bodyguard” and perhaps I missed this plot point explanation, but how did Nicki write The Stalker? Twitter? If she had his address (or even email address), perhaps this mystery would have been wrapped up a lot sooner.
And every time we see The Stalker (especially the slow-motion bits), it feels forced with no air of menace or threat.
Besides the glorious pop score, the technical achievements in “The Bodyguard” do deserve praise.
Tim Hatley’s set design is high-tech with cascading panels that move vertically and horizontally to frame the scenes in various spaces on the stage and augmented by Mark Henderson’s mind-boggling light panels that grow or shrink in their illumination like a thermometer. And Duncan McLean’s video projections may be the largest projected images I have ever seen in a theatre.
Hatley also designed the costumes, sound design is by Richard Brooker, choreography is by Karen Bruce, and musical arrangements, orchestrations and additional music is by Chris Egan.
“The Bodyguard” continues through Sunday, Sept. 17 at the Peace Center, 300 South Main Street in Greenville. Call (864) 467-3000 or visit http://www.peacecenter.org.