Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Also see Cameron's review of Daddy Long Legs
Top level, coldly professional bodyguard Frank Farmer is hired by the manager of hugely successful pop diva and Academy Award nominee Rachel Marron who has been stalked by and received menacing psychopathic letters from a clearly disturbed and dangerous individual. Initially, there is hostility between the dismissive and disdainful Rachel and the all-business Frank. However, as the stalker becomes an ever increasing threat, Rachel and Frank become closer and, in time, have a brief, casual affair.
Although, on the title page of the program, the show on stage is referred to as The Bodyguard The Musical, what we have on stage is a melodramatic, would be romantic thriller with pre-existing pop music mostly sung in stage and club performances, in rehearsal for performances, and while being written. There is one hymn-like song sung after a tragic event. There are about three songs which attempt to link to the emotions of the protagonists. Examples include a late evening reprise of the Dolly Parton song "I Will Always Love You," followed by Rachel's 11 o'clock closer "I Have Nothing" ((by David Foster and Linda Thompson). However, there is a total disconnect between the superficial, tepid relationships depicted in the Alexander Dinelaris adaptation of Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay, and the over the top passionate emotions and brokenheartedness expressed in the pop music which assures that the twain shall never meet.
Even within themselves, there is a lack of continuity between the book scenes which lurch about from one melodramatic event to another. The stalker appears at will seemingly wherever he chooses. We never get a sense that Frank Farmer has any plan to uncover and remove the stalker or as how to protect Rachel. While the books of good musicals are brief and tightly packed with exposition, Dinelaris fills the stage with awkward conversations which appear to be seeking words which might fill stage time. For the record, a "mystery" element from the movie re: Rachel's stalker has been eliminated.
Deborah Cox sings and moves well, as she makes do with a one-dimensional, stereotypical role. However, Cox doesn't quite have the bravura chops to musically convey the thrill and powerful impact that one expects from a, say, Whitney Houston back in the day. A viewing of the film reveals that some notes from Whitney Houston's songs have been transposed to lower registers. Cox sings every song in the show save one, including theatrically enervating ballads sung back to back.
It is the conceit of the authors to cast the role of Frank Farmer with a non-singing actor who does not include among his assets any talent for the musical stage (and to have him make fun of his lack of skill thereon). Judson Mills, who has long performed extensively in acting roles on television, has this role, and may be seen as an asset in selling tickets to those who have enjoyed his home screen performances.
Jasmin Richardson, who portrays Nicki, is a pleasing performer who does a fine job on her one solo, "Saving All My Love." The scenic production by Tim Hatley consists principally of narrow vertical panels which provide the backgrounds for the various settings. It is neither attractive nor sufficiently varied. Thea Sharrock's direction does little to overcome the shapelessness of the production.
The rock concert choreography provided by Karen Bruce is something else again. Easily, the highlights of The Bodyguard are the musical production numbers. Here, the singing, choreography and, particularly, extraordinary strobe lighting (designed by Mark Henderson) and blasts of steam capture the fervor and delight of arena rock concert spectaculars. The opening numbera Rachel Marron rock concert presentation of a sung and danced "Queen of the Night"is delightful entertainment. As is the post curtain call rock concert style number, successfully designed to keep us on our feet in order to see it.
The Bodyguard The Musical continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday, Thursday 7:30 pm; Friday, Saturday 8 pm,, Sunday 7 pm/ Mats: Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 1:30 pm through January 1, 2017, at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.thebodyguardmusical.com.
The Bodyguard The Musical Based on the Warner Brothers Film; Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan; Book by Alexander Dinelaris; Directed by Thea Sharrock