Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Tuneful ‘Bodyguard’ Delivers at the Hippodrome

Deborah Cox stars in 'The Bodyguard' Photo: Joan Marcus
Let’s have a show of hands…who does NOT enjoy music that had been performed by Whitney Houston?  Nobody.  Just what I thought.

The Bodyguard, a musical adaptation of the Oscar-nominated 1992 film that featured Houston and Kevin Costner, has made a stop at the Hippodrome Theatre on its national tour to provide Whitney Houston fans a fulfillment of the craving to hear those many pop hits primarily from the 1980s and 1990s.  And even if you were reluctant to raise your hand and are not particularly a fan of hers, you would likely enjoy the show anyway. #hocoarts

Written by Alexander Dinelaris, the musical version opened in London’s West End in 2012 just ten months after Houston’s untimely death and captured several awards. The Bodyguard, which has not appeared on Broadway, modernizes the story from the movie and includes additional songs.  Mr. Dinelaris’ storyline is captivating with its dramatic highs and lows.   

The Bodyguard features such classics as “So Emotional,” “One Moment in Time,” “Saving All My Love,” “Run to You,” “I’m Every Woman,” “Greatest Show of All,” “I Have Nothing,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (my personal favorite) and one of the biggest selling songs of all time, “ I Will Always Love You.”  In all, Houston sold an estimated 170 to 200 million records worldwide.

The story offers a mix of romance, mystery, violence, tragedy, devotion, well-placed comedy and a shocking climax. It revolves around superstar performer Rachel Marron with six Grammys and other awards in tow and her relationship with her newly hired bodyguard Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent who is charged to protect her from a mysterious sinister stalker.  

At first she resists Farmer’s absolute control of her movements and schedule including where she can eat.  But eventually such friction gives way to attraction and they both fall in love.  Adding to the mix is Rachel’s sister Nicki, a dive bar singer, who lives in the shadow of Rachel and who also develops feelings for Farmer.

The songs are very neatly woven through the story and are beautifully performed by multi-platinum R&B/pop recording artist and film/TV actress Deborah Cox as Rachel and Jasmin Richardson as Nikki Marron. 

Both gorgeous leading women excel in their interpretations of the familiar Houston numbers as solos or in duets or production numbers.  They do those Houston ballads justice with their sultry, silky and soulful vocals.  And each demonstrates strong acting skills especially in the tender, romantic moments.

TV performer Judson Mills does a fine job as the mainly serious and seemingly unemotional bodyguard Frank Farmer.  The funniest scene takes place in a karaoke bar where Farmer attempts to sing “I Will Always Love You” only to have a disguised Rachel perform “I Have Nothing” to an adoring crowd who took selfies.  Ms. Cox’s rendition is a show stopper.

Adorable Douglas Baldeo (alternates with Kevelin B. Jones III) is endearing as Rachel’s young son Fletcher.  He is an important ingredient in the plot, and please stick around at the show’s end and check out his performance during the Encore.  Wow!

As The Stalker, hunky Jorge Paniagua doesn’t have much of a speaking role but his menacing presence is felt throughout.  He gives a chilling performance as the show’s villain.  So effective is he as this heavy, Mr. Paniagua received boos from the audience at curtain call on the night this show was reviewed.  This odd phenomenon was not based on the quality of the performance but the role he plays.  Kudos to Mr. Paniagua.

Other notable performers include Alex Corrado as Tony Scibelli, Rachel’s personal security guard, Jarid Faubel as FBI agent Ray Court, Charles Gray as manager Bill Devaney, and Jonathan Hadley as publicist Sy Spector.

Photo: Joan Marcus
The talented and attractive ensemble adds to the entertainment with several production numbers that are choreographed deftly by Karen Bruce.  Matthew Smedal ably conducts the seven-piece orchestra that succeeds in not drowning out the stellar vocalists.

Thea Sharrock directs The Bodyguard with a skilled touch in presenting a smoothly run production. The opening explosive number gets your attention with a loud burst of sound and bright lights. Thankfully, no heart attacks were reported.  If you attend the show, be prepared.

Scene changes move fluidly throughout. Tim Hartley’s mobile set is extraordinary with its multiple locales that include Rachel’s mansion, a log cabin, bars and even the Oscars stage.  The impressive and aesthetically pleasing set piece, consisting largely of flexible panels that contract to focus on one or two actors and individual performances, is innovative and functional.  Mr. Hartley also designed the costumes highlighted by the stunning glittery gown worn by Ms. Cox near the show’s end.

Paul Hardt’s lighting design is at times exhilarating especially during concert-like performances that feature light shows.  However, the dramatic scenes could use some additional wattage to illuminate the stage more.  Duncan McLean's excellent video design added extra texture to the set.

The Bodyguard is a well-directed and performed presentation of Whitney Houston’s most popular songs.  It’s more than a concert with an edge-of-your-seat plot to surround the music.  Ms. Cox and Ms. Richardson are stellar vocalists and capture the essence of Whitney’s charisma.  It is definitely worth a visit.

Running time. Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

The Bodyguard runs through March 5 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

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