‘Bodyguard’ musical looks amazing, sounds great, needs better story

"The Bodyguard" at Paper Mill Playhouse features Judson Mills as Frank Farmer hired to protect Deborah Cox as pop singer Rachel Marron, who is being stalked . (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)
“The Bodyguard” at Paper Mill Playhouse features Judson Mills as Frank Farmer hired to protect Deborah Cox as pop singer Rachel Marron, who is being stalked . (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)

“The Bodyguard” begins with a bang — a gun shot, actually — that made every single theatergoer in the 1,200-seat Paper Mill Playhouse jump. It ends with pop music star Rachel Madden, elevated above the audience — alone in the spotlight.

First produced in London in 2012 and recently revived, the American production ends its 5-week U.S. debut this weekend  and continues its national tour Jan. 10-15 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, the second site for the 20 American cities tour. More dates are expected to be announced.  Most of the tour consists of 5-day stints, but several cities are booked for two- to three-week sit downs, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Costa Mesa. (Complete schedule below)

It’s the slickest production I’ve ever seen at the Millburn, NJ,   a nonprofit venue that has become a launch pad for  Broadway musicals recently, including “Newsies,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” and earlier this month “A Bronx Tale.” “Bandstand,” which premiered there in 2015 is scheduled to make its Broadway debut April 2017.

"The Bodyguard" makes its North American premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ, featuring Deborah Cox as pop singer Rachel Marron who needs protection from a stalker. (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)
“The Bodyguard” makes its North American premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ, featuring Deborah Cox as pop singer Rachel Marron who needs protection from a stalker. (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)

The superior design team — set and costumes by Tim Hatley, lights by Mark Henderson, video by Duncan McLean, sound by Richard Brooker — is outstanding. You feel like you’re at an arena concert with pulsating music, well-sculpted backup singers/dancers, flashy costumes, meticulous choreography, jets of steam and gyrating lights.

It offsets the thin plot and minimal character development as well as the lack of sexual attraction between the singer Rachel Madden (Grammy nominated Deborah Cox) and bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), in the show based on the not-all-that-great 1992 movie.

Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), a former Secret Service agent turned private bodyguard, is hired to protet pop singer Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) from an assassin. (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)
Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), a former Secret Service agent turned private bodyguard, is hired to protet pop singer Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) from an assassin. (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)

Nevertheless,  the movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner as the former Secret Service agent who takes the job of bodyguard to a pop singer who’s being stalked, delivered one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time, with such hits as “I’m Every Woman” and “I Have Nothing.” The musical also includes “Queen of the Night,” “So Emotional,” “One Moment in Time,” “Saving All My Love,” “Run to You,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and one of the biggest selling songs of all time – “I Will Always Love You” — written by Dolly Parton.

The musical’s book is by Alexander Dinelaris (the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Birdman”) who tweeked  Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay, which streamlines the plot a little.

In the movie, there are two stalkers and one was her sister.  Here Nicki (an excellent  Jasmin Richardson) still is not Rachel’s biggest fan, but she wasn’t trying to hurt her and she is seen more often.

The assassin (Jorge Paniagua) — who I don’t remember having a single line in the show — is seen writing his scary letters and caressing a dress he stole — in images projected on moving screens giving us the ominous feeling he’s everywhere. He’s also ex-army, not the weak-looking loner.

The character of Frank’s father is eliminated from the remote cabin-in-the-woods scene, a place the family escapes to after the stalker — here called an assassin — gets too close. Yet no one locks the cabin door and the assassin walks right in.

Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) in "The Bodyguard" at the Paper Mill Playhouse. (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)
Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) in “The Bodyguard” at the Paper Mill Playhouse. (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)

In both the movie and musical, Frank didn’t  want the job of guarding a celebrity until he finds out she has a 10-year-old son Fletcher (alternately played by Douglas Baldeo and Kevelin B. Jones III). We never know why that made such a difference and we know nothing about Fletcher’s father.

 

But what is missing most — which would have helped much if the musical had included what the film did not — sexual tension between Frank and Rachel. After restricting Rachel’s movements, changing her routine and pissing off her entourage,  she leaves her home for a nightclub where she barely escapes harm and is carried out of danger in that iconic image used to promote both film and musical.

Of course they end up in bed because isn’t that how everyone rewards their savior. Please. There was more  physical attraction between Frank and Nicki during the Edison Lounge scene — where Nicki goes to sing anonymously — than there was with her pop star sister.  But, as always, Rachel gets what Nicki wants: first her singing career, now her love interest. It’s another relationship in the musical’s narrative that is left undeveloped.

There’s a lot of show while not enough substance, but director Thea Sharrock keeps things moving and choreography by Karen Bruce is creative and interesting.

“The Bodyguard” certainly has enough razzle dazzle and name recognition to attract audiences on the road during short stints. Will it make money on Broadway? Maybe, if the leads are well-known  and enough of their fans buy tickets. But it’s a long shot.

"The Bodyguard" at Paper Mill Playhouse features Judson Mills as Frank Farmer hired to protect Deborah Cox (center) as pop singer Rachel Marron, who is being stalked . (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)
“The Bodyguard” at Paper Mill Playhouse features Judson Mills as Frank Farmer hired to protect Deborah Cox (center) as pop singer Rachel Marron, who is being stalked . (PHOTO: Matthew Murphy)

THE BODYGUARD

North American premiere of the musical based on the Lawrence Kasdan film, at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn,  through Jan. 1.

Book by Alexander Dinelaris, direction by Thea Sharrock, choreography by Karen Bruce. With Deborah Cox, Judson Mills, Alex Corrado, Charles Gray, Jonathan Hadley, Jorge Paniagua, Jasmin Richardson, Douglas Baldeo, Kevelin B. Jones III.

Tickets start at $32. 973-376-4343 or papermill.org

ADDITIONAL TOUR DATES

  • Jan 10 – 15, 2017 / Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis, MN
  • Jan 17 – 22, 2017 / Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, Appleton, WI
  • Jan 24 – 29, 2017 / Orpheum Theatre, Memphis, TN
  • Jan 31 – Feb 12, 2017 / Oriental Theatre, Chicago, IL
  • Feb 14 – 19, 2017 / Ohio Theatre, Columbus, OH
  • Feb 21 – 26, 2017 / Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA
  • Feb 28 – Mar 5, 2017 / Hippodrome Theatre, Baltimore, MD
  • Mar 7 – 12, 2017 / Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Charlotte, NC
  • Mar 14 – 19, 2017 / Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham, NC
  • Mar 21 – 26, 2017 / Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Nashville, TN
  • Mar 28 – Apr 2, 2017 / Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA
  • Apr 4 – 9, 2017 / Saenger Theatre, New Orleans, LA
  • Apr 12 – 16, 2017 / Centennial Hall, Tucson, AZ
  • Apr 18 – 23, 2017 / Community Center Theatre, Sacramento, CA
  • Apr 25 – 30, 2017 / San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose
  • May 2 – 21, 2017 / Hollywood Pantages, Los Angeles, CA
  • May 30 – Jun 11, 2017 / egerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, CA
  • Jun 13 – 18, 2017 / Civic Theatre, San Diego, CA
  • Aug 15 – 20, 2017 / Hobby Center, Houston, TX
  • Additional cities will be announced at a later date.

 

 

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