by Mark G. Auerbach
I watched the film version of The Bodyguard for the first time over the weekend, and like many of the reviewers covering the film in 1992, felt that the score was beyond-magnificent, and Whitney Houston, in her film debut, wasn’t much of an actor in this tepid man protects superstar romance. But, Whitney Houston had pipes and she turned every song into an over-the-top moment.
So, I was looking forward to seeing Deborah Cox, whose Broadway performances in Aida and Jekyll and Hyde were thrilling–and who has a stunning career as an R&B singer, toss off some Whitney Houston hits. Sadly, Ms. Cox is with her family in Parkland, FL, where she has children in the school system. She won’t return to the show until Wednesday. Jasmin Richardson, her understudy, opened The Bodyguard in Hartford opposite Judson Mills in the part played by Kevin Costner in the movie.
Let me just say upfront that Jasmin Richardson is a marvel–great voice, superb stage presence, and long on style. She doesn’t disappoint in a role that requires her onstage for almost the entire show, belting out one powerful tune after another. She usually plays the sister of Rachel, the superstar. In her usual role was another understudy, Dequina Moore, also superb.
Their performances and the Whitney Houston cavalcade of hits are the prime reason to see The Bodyguard. It’s got splashy sets, costumes, and lights, serviceble choreography other than the curtain call, which is terrifically staged.
The Broadway musical has long looked to Hollywood for source material, and the very best musical adaptations of movies open up the film with something more than seen onscreen.. Recent musical hits adapted from non-musical movies include The Waitress opened up with Sara Bareilles’ unique score in the same way that Kinky Boots benefits from Cyndi Lauper’s musical score. An American in Paris was re-imagined by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.
When stage adaptations of film musicals or those with memorable soundtracks transition to stage, it’s essential that the theatricality and uniqueness is present. Two recent attempts, Flashdance and Dirty Dancing, played the Bushnell on the national tours, and they evoked memories of the film as opposed to new takes on the film. The Bodyguard falls in that category.
The Bodyguard paired Houston, in her film debut, as a superstar being stalked, with Kevin Costner as her protector. The reviews were mixed, but the soundtrack, one of the best-selling soundtracks ever, was glorious, and Houston, in exquisite voice at the time, was tour-de-force, even if the story took second place to the score. The Bodyguard surfaced onstage in London in 2012, and is now touring nationally, possibly in hopes of heading to Broadway.
What The Bodyguard has going for it is, once again, the showstoppers from the original film, with some other Whitney Houston hits added, and I assume the incredible performance of Deborah Cox. But, for me, I would have enjoyed a Whitney Houston tribute concert starring either Cox or Richardson twice as much–so her artistry could shine through with just Houston’s music.
Deborah Cox is not scheduled to perform at the Saturday matinee or Sunday evening performances.
The Bushnell presents The Bodyguard. Based on the Warner Brothers film Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Book by Alexander Dinelaris. Music by assorted artists. Directed by Thea Sharrock. Choreography by Karen Bruce. Music direction by Matthew Smedal. Scenic and costume design by Tim Hatley. Lighting design by Mark Henderson. Sound design by Richard Brooker. Video design by Duncan McLean..Cast: Jasmin Richardson for Deborah Cox and Judson Mills. Through February 25 at The Bushnell, Hartford, CT. 860-987-5900 or www.bushnell.org.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat Radio on 89.5fm/WSKB Radio.