Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The stage story essentially follows the film script, as it eliminates many of the more intricate movie plot details and focuses on international music sensation and Oscar contender Rachel Marron. Her manager decides he needs to increase her security detail due to an obsessive stalker who plans Rachel harm. He hires Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent turned private bodyguard. Rachel's son Fletcher and her sister Nicki are thrilled, since Frank is a pseudo father and potential love interest to them, respectively, but Rachel isn't too keen on his gruff and ruff exterior, his strict demeanor, and the way his presence stifles her freedom. It isn't hard to guess how the story and the relationship between Rachel and Frank will end in a plot that is as simple as can be.
Alexander Dinelaris adapted Lawrence Kasdan's film script for the stage, though the cheesy dialogue and situations make for a very uninspired plot. There are also a lot of plot details that are simply glossed over and nonexistent character development. For example, the after effects of the death of a supporting character isn't just glossed, it barely even registers with any of the other characters who were close to them. Fortunately, while the story is fairly basic, the stage version includes not only the big film soundtrack hits "I Will Always Love You," "I'm Every Woman," "I Have Nothing," and "Run to You," but several of Houston's other hits, which are added to flesh out the show. These include "So Emotional," "Saving All My Love for You," "How Will I Know," and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody." The addition of all of those well-known tunes turns the basic storyline into a jukebox musical that is a combination of beloved hit film and Whitney Houston concert.
As Rachel, Cox has an incredible stage presence as well as a singing voice that delivers on the vast vocal requirements of the role. Fortunately, she doesn't attempt to impersonate Houston's signature singing style and recognizable vocal riffs, instead adding her own unique phrasing to many of the songs and creating a fairly realistic character that actually grows somewhat throughout the show.
At the opening night performance in Tempe, Judson Mills played the part of Frank in act one and, due to illness, Jorge Paniagua performed the role in the second act. Mills is appropriately stiff and stern at first as a professional who is just trying to do his job, but his demeanor and body language also elicit warmth as Frank's feelings go beyond his businesslike exterior. Paniagua did a fairly good job as Frank in act two, which I have to imagine was difficult as not only did he not get to portray the shift in Frank's attitude toward Rachel, which happens in the first act, but he had to go from playing her stalker in act one (his usual part) to her protector in act two. Jasmin Richardson is superb as Rachel's sister Nicki, in a role expanded from the film. Her vocals soar and combine beautifully with Cox on a few duets the two share as well as a stunning solo of "Saving All My Love for You." Richardson also plays the role of Rachel at two scheduled performances this week and I have to imagine she is phenomenal in the part.
Director Thea Sharrock does an adequate job of adding some liveliness to the plodding plot, but some of the serious moments that are supposed to be scary or shocking risk the chance of receiving unintentional laughter due to the use of slow-motion action and overused sound effects that border on the comical. The sleek sets and costumes by Tim Hatley and the high-octane music video and Vegas-infused choreography by Karen Bruce, along with the rock concert lighting by Mark Henderson and clear sound from Richard Brooker, create a vibrant and lively experience for the musical segments. Duncan McLean's video projections add some nice cinematic elements, though some of Brooker's sound effects include a horror movie sound cue whenever Rachel's stalker appears that is downright laughable.
The stage version of The Bodyguard makes for cheesy fun and a nostalgic trip back to the 1980s and the vast song hit catalog of Whitney Houston. However, when Cox isn't singing another well-known Houston hit to huge acclaim and the melodramatic plot and cardboard characters take over, it amounts to a very uneven theatrical experience. But, if you love the songs Houston made famous and the movie, you will most likely love the stage musical as well.
The Bodyguard runs through December 3rd, 2017, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.thebodyguardmusical.com/us-tour/
Book by Alexander Dinelaris, based on the screenplay by Lawrence