Heading into the Hippodrome for last night’s showing of “The Bodyguard,” I had what I’d classify as a distinct advantage: I’ve never seen the movie. I know, I know—it’s blasphemy, and much less than what our dear Whitney deserves.
But having never seen the film, my impressions of the story were vague. I knew it was less than a cinematic masterpiece (my boyfriend had referred to it as “not good, per se”), that it featured iconic tune “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and that the star at the center of the plot had some sort of dangerous stalker and eventually fell in love with her stoic bodyguard.
Perhaps because of this ignorance, from the first moments of the musical, I was simply riveted. The production quality was astounding, with song and dance numbers that made me feel like a member of a Grammys audience, beautiful light effects and an oft-transforming set that lent itself well to the frequent scene changes. And the singing? Incredible. Grammy-nominated R&B star Deborah Cox is a vocal vision as Rachel Marron, and nearly as well-matched by her on-stage sister Nicki (Jasmin Richardson, who will play Rachel during the Saturday matinee and Sunday evening shows).
Also stunning is actor Judson Mills as the eponymous bodyguard, Frank Farmer. He absolutely charms in the role, bringing humanity and wit to the show’s cheesier moments and filling in the plot’s gaps with clever use of body language and facial expression.
Mills has appeared in countless roles on both small and silver screens (credits include “Dexter,” “The Mentalist,” “Gods and Monsters” and more), and was drawn back to the stage as a favor to his old friend and college roommate Alex Dinelaris, who adapted the play from the screen.
“He called me at the last minute and asked if I’d be interested in doing it,” Mills explained, “and I didn’t feel like I could pass up the opportunity to be part of something as iconic as this story. I love being on the stage again and am enjoying working with Deborah. She’s a phenomenal human being and a phenomenal artist.”
As an actress, though, I’d argue Cox is a little less impressive, and the added love triangle between Rachel, Frank and Nicki—that I hear wasn’t present in the movie—seems a bit baseless. (Nicki and Frank share an inessential moment that somehow warrants multiple mournful ballads on the part of the former.) And while I haven’t seen the movie, I don’t think this staging redeems it entirely of its essential camp. There were several points at which high drama was clearly intended, but elicited laughter instead (despite, I should note, Jorge Paniagua’s legitimately creepy turn as “The Stalker”), and the dramatic final scenes were so overwrought that I found myself giggling a bit.
With that being said, however, I can’t overstate how enjoyable the show really is. Sure, it’s a bit silly in places, but the entertainment value is incredibly high. (I haven’t even mentioned Rachel’s son Fletcher, played by 12-year-old Douglas Baldeo, who is so unbelievably talented and adorable that I found myself hoping for him to return to the stage even during the show’s least opportune scenes.) Again, Cox and Richardson’s voices are beyond compare, and there are some truly golden moments—the karaoke scene in particular, which is not incidentally Mills’ favorite of the show. Most importantly, you absolutely MUST stay after the show’s epic final number. No spoilers, of course, but you’ll certainly be dancing out of the theater.
The Bodyguard is at the Hippodrome through March 5.