By Barry Reszel
It’s almost as if Whitney Houston herself sings, “And I…will always love you.”
Isn’t that really all the populist musical, The Bodyguard, in Chicago through mid-February as part of its huge national tour, needs to do?
And so if expectations are no grander, Broadway in Chicago’s hosting of Canadian pop singer Deborah Cox can be considered a success. This beauty gorgeously, seamlessly sings her way through the well-known Houston songbook from the 1992 mega-hit film (and resulting 17x platinum, Grammy-winning soundtrack) of the same name.
It’s a lovely songbook, really, including hits “Greatest Love of All,” “One Moment in Time,” “Queen of the Night,” “Run to You,” “Saving All My Love” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go,” along with 10 or so more. And with Cox as fictional pop star Rachel Marron handling the bulk of the vocals (Jasmin Richardson as sister Nicki admirably chimes in on several and is the most accomplished actor on this stage), it’s a musically satisfying evening of entertainment.
But as the current touring entry in the trend of turning successful films of the spending generation into Broadway-style musicals (Freaky Friday is a-comin’), The Bodyguard joins Ghost, Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever and others on the island of not-good-enough.
Because despite Cox’s powerhouse vocals and some interesting use of geometry, depth and lighting in the touring sets (kudos to Mark Henderson, lighting designer, and Duncan McLean, video designer), the stage representation of this romantic drama comes off as stiff and rather inauthentic.
The story is easy to follow and relatively true to its film predecessor. Pop singer Rachel Marron finds herself the target of a stalker whose intentions are unknown but presumed sinister. Enter reluctant bodyguard Frank Farmer, played by Kevin Costner in the film and in this production, by Judson Mills. Strong, buff, handsome and professional, he eventually wins Rachel’s trust and lust. But does crossing the professional line that leads to her bedroom put Rachel in greater danger?
While Director Thea Sharrock would be well-advised to pay greater attention to authenticity in the relationship between her two leads, her decision to cast the stalker as a shadowy, omnipresent figure creates legitimate tension.
Of additional note is young Douglas Baldeo in the role of Rachel’s young son Fletcher. His scenes bring out the best acting in Cox and Mills, and the scene in which he sings “Jesus Loves Me,” leading to a trio with Cox and Richardson, is genuinely heartwarming.
The Bodyguard musical was first presented in London five years ago and producers would like to bring it to Broadway (see production notes here). It’s hard to find good reason for them to do that. Yes, this is a likeable story with a soaring score and and a powerhouse vocalist. But at least in its current iteration, it lacks the insight and depth needed for sustained success on the Great White Way.
So Les Mis it is not, nor will The Bodyguard ever be. But to many, a channeling of Whitney is well worth the price of admission.
Broadway in Chicago presents “The Bodyguard” through February 12 at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.