THE BODYGUARD: THE MUSICAL at the Oriental Theatre, Review – A Load of Empty Calories

My expectations could not have been lower coming into The Bodyguard- the latest screen-to-stage musical adaptation to hit Chicago. After sitting through painful musical renditions of Beaches, Dirty Dancing, and First Wives Club, I was not exactly yearning to watch The Bodyguard step up next to the butchering table.

 

Deborah Cox and Touring Company

 

These uninspired musical versions reek of producers greedily trying to exploit our beloved, and therefore highly marketable, films of the past just to rake in some high paying dollars. It all comes at the expense of storytelling and heartfelt sincerity. The Bodyguard, like many other musicals based movies, is more interested in brainless spectacle than with expanding upon, enhancing, or even improving the already flawed source material.

 

Deborah Cox and Touring Company

 

Aside from the movie-musical concept I had other reasons for my particularly grim outlook going into The Bodyguard musical. Despite being on a national tour, and having a London production, this show was still deemed to be “too risky” (aka not good enough) to be mounted on Broadway. And rightly so. Although this tour is marketed as a “pre-Broadway” tryout, let’s be real – it’s not going to New York. This musical belongs on either a cruise ship or inside a touristy Las Vegas venue. It’s more theme park tourist attraction than actual compelling theatre.

 

Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron

 

The 1992 film starred Kevin Costner as "the bodyguard", Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent, and the late Whitney Houston, in her debut acting role, as the fictitious famous singer Rachel Marron. Although the movie was a surprise box-office smash, it’s certainly no cinematic masterpiece filled with brilliant writing and layered insight. Instead, Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay is a messy, pointless, hokey rom-com that wants to be an action thriller. The plot doesn’t make any sense, the acting is sub-par, and it gets cheesy real fast. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an overall 32% rating, summing up the critical consensus at the time as “a cheesy, melodramatic potboiler.”

 

Deborah Cox and Judson Mills

 

Like an extra-large sugary soda, The Bodyguard is just a load of empty calories that gives us a guilty pleasure. And this musical adaptation turns up the corn syrup quantities on that surgery soft drink to dangerously high levels. Karen Bruce’s choreography is like watching a bunch of show-choir routines. Tea Sharrock’s direction is repetitive relying on gimmicks and staging instead of helping the actors make genuine connections with each other.

 

Judson Mills as Frank Farmer

 

There is no chemistry between any of the actors, let alone character development. Judson Mills’ idea of character work is to give a lengthy pause before nearly every line Frank Farmer has. He comes off more like a robot than an actual bodyguard. Even worse, are the annoying ensemble members who are constantly stealing focus from the leads during the big solos. And there are so many instances where a character was forced to sing a pointless solo in front of a wall just to necessitate a scene change that the songs all started to feel monotonous after a while.

 

Jasmin Richardson as Nicki Marron

 

Worse yet this is a “Jukebox Musical,” meaning there’s no original music. Instead, the show’s librettist, Alexander Dinelaris, had to copy-and-pasted a collection of Whitney Houston’s greatest hits into an already pre-existing storyline. With songs like “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “I’m Every Woman,” “All the Man That I Need,” “How Will I Known” filling up much of the 2 hours. The effect is like watching The Bodyguard simultaneously morph into both Mamma Mia and a Whitney Houston tribute concert.

 

Deborah Cox and Touring Company

 

In a way, I can understand the intention of wanting to turn this into a full-blown stage musical. I re-watched the movie before reviewing and noticed how it already has music ingrained in the story like the 90’s pop, “Queen of the Night,” the random “Jesus Loves Me,” a music video of “I Have Nothing” and the truly Whitney iconic, “I Will Always Love You.” Those numbers have all been retained for the stage version, though in different ways. “Queen of the Night” opens the musical, while “I Have Nothing” has been turned into a karaoke number.

 

Jasmin Richardson and Deborah Cox

 

But the other songs don’t always work out so well. At the beginning of the Second Act, Rachel crawls out of bed next to Frank, presumably after a night of lovemaking, and she begins, “All the Man That I Need” wherein upon singing the lyrics, “He fills me up. He gives me love,” loud bouts of laughter emanated from the audience (mine included). In the same song, she sings how Farmer is now suddenly “All I’ve got in this world.” Um, did she suddenly forget she has a son? And what kind on divorced single-mother would ever say that? It’s so out of character and context that it takes us out of the show.

 

And can someone please explain why we had to sit through a cheesy samba rendition of “I’m Every Woman”? Or why they decided to set this musical in the present with cell phones and internet references, but they’re dressed in 90’s gear singing and dancing to 90’s pop music.

 

Deborah Cox and Touring Company

 

This touring production stars Canadian-born R&B singer Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron. Cox was the primary reason many were in attendance on press night (everyone else seemed to be there because they'd already purchased Broadway In Chicago subscriptions in order to secure early tickets to see Hamilton). Either way, Cox, though goregous as ever, is one of the worst actresses I've ever seen on tour. To be fair, Rachel is a terrible role and it's not like Houston's acting was any better in the film.

 

It's also true that no one is buying tickets to see Cox act. It’s all about her voice. However, it’s impossible to listen to Cox sing in this role without comparing her to the late Houston – an impossibly high standard vocally. Cox is a great singer, but she sounded increasingly exhausted as the night wore on. Her big numbers, “I Have Nothing” and “I Will Always Love You” were sung about four keys lower than how Whitney sang them. Whether that is an adjustment made for Cox’s vocal range, or whether it was because Cox is vocally tired is anyone’s guess, but it was a bit of a letdown for the two biggest numbers.

 

Judson Mills and Deborah Cox

 

The dialogue is pretty much the same in this stage rendering as it was in the movie, although certain scenes have been cut, like car chases and the boat explosion for practical reasons. Small adjustments were made, Rachel’s son Fletcher (Douglas Baldeo and Kevelin B. Jones III at certain performances) is now into cars rather than boats. The snowy shootout scene in the movie now takes place entirely offstage with sound effects. Some characters have expanded roles. Rachel’s sister Nicki (Jasmin Richardson) is much more prominent, even getting to sing a jazzy version of “Saving All My Love for You.” And unlike the movie, there is only one assassin (Bradford Rahmlow) out to get Rachel in this musical - though he remains nameless and his motivations are never drawn out.

 

Judson Mills and Jasmin Richardson

 

I know full well that we theatre critics are not supposed to make prejudged assumptions. As a matter of fairness, I try to be neutral and judge everything in context as presented. That said, after sitting through this show, I am seriously thankful I had such extraordinary low reservations coming in. In fact, that might be the only saving grace I can think of to make it through this. After all, if you go in anticipating to see rock bottom anything slightly above that will make it seem better than it is. And I’m relieved to say it’s not so bad that it's unwatchable. I have seen worse. It's still a bad show, but less so than I imagined.

 

Deborah Cox and Judson Mills

 

That seemed to be the general consensus from those around me. During intermission, I overheard conversations ranging from, “Well, it’s not as bad as I thought it’d be” to the more often discussed subject, “did you see the abs on those men?” My friend had other thoughts afterward, “okay, it’s not terrible” she said, before adding, “I would never actually pay to see this.” For a show called, The Bodyguard: The Musical I would consider those as compliments.

 

Judson Mills, Deborah Cox and Charles Gray

 

So, I say to anyone planning to attend Bodyguard to come to the theatre with the lowest possible expectations that you can. It will help. And, in addition to turning off your cell phones, I’d also suggest turning off your brain for a couple of hours. Don’t think too much about it. Hell, go ahead and down a few drinks beforehand. If you do so you’ll have a good time. I still can’t guarantee you’ll love it. No one can with material as terrible as this. 

 

Bottom Line: The Bodyguard is not recommended.

 

The Boyguard: The Musical – Broadway In Chicago

Running Time: 2 Hours and 20 minutes including intermission

Location: Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago IL 60601

Runs through: Sunday, February 12

Curtain Times: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM and 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM (and 7:30 PM on Feb 5 only)

Tickets and Reservations: $44.00 - $120.00. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices including 24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut. Tickets can also be purchased by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000. They can also be purchased at all Ticketmaster retail locations. As well as online (see link above).

Group and Discounted Tickets: A select number of premium seats are also available for many performances.  Tickets for groups of 10 or more can be reserved by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710.

Photo Credits: Joan Marcus

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