The Bodyguard, the musical, book by Alexander Dinelaris, based on the Warner Bros. film by Lawrence Kasdan. Directed by Thea Sharrock. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron with the chorus; photo: provided
"I want to run to you."
Judson Mills as Frank Farmer; photo: provided
When a star in one genre appears in a different arena playing a star in one genre, chances are you're going to get something very special. First and foremost you are going to get a star. It doesn't matter what else she does, she is a star and a star is spectacular. Take her out of that high-production element and give her simple clothes, unadorned hair and lines to say and you might expect a reduction in quality, but in the case of Deborah Cox, touring in the musical "The Bodyguard", what you get is a really special presentation of a human being in and out of a dilemma. The possessor of acclaim for the longest running #1 R&B hit single, a 14-week consecutive run in that position. On stage at Proctors in Schenectady as the character created on film by Whitney Houston, her voice, beauty and acting chops are giving her a shot at claiming a top spot in the history of National tours of a Broadway show.
She is aided and abetted by a top-drawer company of actors, singers and dancers. Choreographer Karen Bruce has given this company some of the most intricate and complex work to do. Tim Hatley has framed the play with a set that performs a show of its own and costumes that speak to the performances and people behind them. Mark Henderson brings rock concert lighting into the theatrical milieu and worked with the special effects visuals created by Duncan McLean and special sound effects from the console of Richard Brooker. Even without a plot or characters or actors this would be quite a show to watch.
Luckily, those human performers are a match for the technical production. As Frank Farmer, the bodyguard hired to protect Rachel Marron, played by Cox, and her family, soap opera actor Judson Mills justifies his casting as the title character. From the harsh impact of the opening moments in the show through his emotionally exhausting exit he provides a totally believable human being. It is a grand performance in a show that could easily crowd Frank out of the picture, grand without bravado and without any attempt to overshadow Cox.
As Rachel's sister Nicki opening night at Proctors provided the understudy performance of Naomi C. Walley. She was so spectacular in her singing and acting that it is hard to imagine what might have been better had the listed performer gone on to play the role. Walley is as great a beauty as Cox, with a lyric voice that is nothing less than splendid. Kevelin B. Jones III played Rachel's son Fletcher and he showed as much talent as anyone on the stage. The word terrific comes instantly to mind and the question when will he get his own TV series pops into the mind.
The Stalker, played by Jorge Paniagua, was as handsome a maniac as I've seen and his movements were as well danced as they were threatening. Surrounding Rachel and her crew was her personal staff of well-meaning men played to perfection by Charles Gray, Alex Corrado, Jonathan Hadley, and Alex Jackson.
The various appearances of The Stalker form the central dramatic idiom of this show which is otherwise a concert of familiar hit songs with a modest love story to keep the songs coming. Karen Bruce's work integrates this man into the show with a visual force that is most unusual, and would even make Jerome Robbins a bit jealous and possibly reconsider some of the classic moments in "West Side Story."
Deborah Cox; photo: provided
Judson Mills, Jasmin Richardson, Kevelin B. Jones, III, Deborah Cox; photo: provided
Judson Mills and Deborah Cox; photo: provided
But it is love that carries this story forward. No one loves with the intensity of Rachel Marron and when tragedy assaults her it is love and religion that carry her through adding an unanticipated depth to the character. In Frank's family cabin the Marrons join voices in a familiar hymn and moments later The Stalker finds a victim. How this is played out and how the consequences are played provide the most poignant moments in the play.
The 24 member cast are wonderful. Three of the women, in a karaoke scene, display the backside of talent as they sing a song, dance it and totally destroy the piece as they go. This sort of fun sequence balances the more dramatic and melodramatic aspects of the story. The Academy Award setting of the final scenes gives the play another level of reality to show off.
Finally, a word of caution: do not leave during the applause. You will miss one of the great numbers in this show. A final reprise with everyone in formal attire brings a whole different look and feel to a song you've already heard and lets the cast show their bright and shining talents one more time. It would be a shame to rush away without this "thank you" from the company for you being the best audience in the world.
Deborah Cox and the boys; photo: provided
The Bodyguard, the musical runs at Proctors, 432 State Street, in Schenectady through February 4. For information and tickets go to www.proctors.org or call 518-346-6204.