Theater Review: THE BODYGUARD (U.S. Tour at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago)

by Lawrence Bommer on February 2, 2017

in Theater-Chicago,Tours

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PROTECTING YOUR ASSET

The best thing about The Bodyguard, Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated 1992 film, was how it put the late Whitney Houston on the map and in our hearts. Despite zero chemistry, erotic or dramatic, between Houston’s driven diva and Kevin Costner’s title character, Houston’s celebrity survivor scorched the screen, buttressed by Whitney’s terrific breakout numbers. Houston, the eagle, had landed.

Lightning won’t strike twice: This 2012 musical spin-off of the otherwise forgettable film, now playing Chicago’s Oriental Theatre (and continuing its U.S. tour after Lincoln’s Birthday), is no second coming. At best, Grammy nominee and R&B sensation Deborah Cox delivers a strong reminder. For many devotees that should be excuse and entertainment enough.

And Cox comes bearing gifts from a superstar-turned-nova who needlessly died the year this musical premiered in London: “Queen of the Night,” “So Emotional,” “One Moment in Time,” “Run To You,” “I Have Nothing,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” and the signature solo (now with special meaning for Houston’s fans) “I Will Always Love You.” As the jealous sister (here more innocent than in the film), Jasmin Richardson also regales us with “Saving All My Love.”

So, just as the silly-plotted Mamma Mia! is best enjoyed as a pretend ABBA reunion (in the final megamix), The Bodyguard is a simulated two-hour Houston concert, the hokey story notwithstanding.

Opposites who attract, Cox’s Oscar-wannabe—Rachel Marron—finds herself stalked and in need of security (emotional, it turns out, as much as physical). Former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (a somewhat stoic but hunky Judson Mills) seems the answer. Initially, his necessary disruption of Rachel’s privacy (to prevent the ultimate invasion) makes her push back against this take-charge intruder. But when he wins the affection of her son Fletcher (Douglas Baldeo, alternating with Kevelin B. Jones III), the curiously single Marron feels she’s found a family. The cute “real life” scene, where a major recording artist does her own karaoke, remains a charming winner 25 years later.

[SPOILER ALERT] Rachel does have family, however, and Richardson shines as Nicki, the troubled sister who likes Farmer herself and envies Rachel’s supposedly undeserved fame—though Nicki’s fate proves that, whatever he is in bed, Frank is not that great a bodyguard. Despite their outsized egos (hers extroverted, his assertive), Frank and Rachel inevitably split (after he meets his obligation by saving her from the stalker). It’s their answer to the final hit offering, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”.

Before they do, Thea Sharrock’s touring staging employs abundant video, pyrotechnics, projections, wizard lighting, and knock-down, kick-ass choreography by Karen Bruce to sell the songs and seal the deal. Cox’s full-throated delivery, sassy strut, and concentrated heartbreak reanimate the 15 Houston classics. With the offstage romance a mere excuse for the score, it’s sufficient satisfaction that everything here looks as good as Houston’s sounds.

photos by Joan Marcus

The Bodyguard
U.S. Tour
presented by Broadway in Chicago
at the Oriental Theatre until February 12, 2017
for tickets, call 800.775.2000
or visit Broadway in Chicago
**tour continues until August 20, 2017
for dates and cities, visit The Bodyguard

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