Musicals are inspired from a variety of sources including literature, historical events and movies. Yet, The Bodyguard isn’t a predictable choice for a screen-to-stage adaptation.
More of a commercial success than a critical one, the 1992 flick benefited from a hit soundtrack and the central relationship between Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston.
The drama doesn’t seem suited to a theatrical experience, because the motion picture was a romantic thriller that just happened to include tunes such as “I Have Nothing” and Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” While the touring version at the San Diego Civic Theatre features enjoyable concert-themed musical numbers, the tale isn’t as compelling as it was on film.
Modernized for the 21st century, the setup is similar to that of the motion picture. A dedicated former secret service agent and bodyguard, Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) is assigned to look after a pop superstar, Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox).
Rachel feels Frank isn’t needed, but she doesn’t realize that a violent stalker (Jorge Paniagua) has deadly plans for her. While Frank becomes closer to Rachel and her family, the obsessed fan turns into a dangerous threat to the star.
One reason most audiences are going to see the Civic Theatre’s staging will be to listen to the stage renditions of Houston’s tunes. Unfortunately, the songs are often abruptly thrown into the night, as very little buildup occurs before the numbers begin.
Cox expresses likable confidence and inner strength performing singles like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Queen of the Night.”
Partially responsible for the pop sound are musicians led by music director/keyboardist, Matthew Smedal. They stay true to the original arrangements written for the big screen.
Besides Cox and a few solo moments from Kevelin B. Jones III (on opening night) as Rachel’s son, Fletcher, the only other standout soloist is Jasmin Richardson, as Rachel’s jealous sister, Nicki. It’s a shame that book writer Alexander Dinelaris, forces a love triangle between Frank and the two sisters. While that element doesn’t really go anywhere, Richardson’s singing in “Saving All My Love” and “Run to You” brings pathos to Nicki’s secret feelings for Frank.
Director Thea Sharrock, and the design team, create an atmosphere that works best when the characters are having heavy and intense dialogue. Sharrock lets the narrative breathe as Frank talks to other characters such as Rachel and her manager, Bill Devaney (Charles Gray). Tim Hatley’s scenery depicts a variety of locations from Rachel’s massive mansion to an intimate club. Mark Henderson’s lighting also brings a gritty noirish quality to Frank’s phone conversations.
Unfortunately, Sharrock and the creative team overdo the tension that is supposed to be building up to the climax. This works against the evening especially in the manner in which they handle the stalker.
Paniagua does what he can to be menacing, but Henderson’s lighting, Richard Brooker’s sound effects and Duncan McLean’s projections turn him into an almost cartoonish presence.
The Bodyguard is much less of a mystery than Lawrence Kasdan’s original screenplay. He threw in twists and turns, and didn’t use the stalker as the only deadly threat against Rachel. By making the stalker the only cause of harm to Rachel’s life, the live interpretation comes across as less dramatic.
Not only are thrills almost absent, there isn’t much room for Frank and Rachel’s romance to take off. In the cinematic version, their affair went through a lot of highs and lows as the two of them got to know each other. In Downtown San Diego, they have significantly less one on one time.
Where Cox and Mills really shine is during a karaoke scene towards the end of Act I. Frank and Rachel share playful banter and Mills gets to showcase his droll sense of humor. If there were other sequences similar to this, the connection between the protagonists would be believable.
Despite good singing from Cox and Richardson, the staging disappoints in the way Dinelaris and Sharrock handle the story. Regardless of issues, you still might get several of Houston’s songs stuck in your head for days after watching the show.