By Jennifer Mustoe and Larisa Hicken
I remember the 1992 movie The Bodyguard, starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, only vaguely and it was played in a second-rate theater, so the sound was kinda bad. The sound not being good is key to why I didn’t enjoy it much. Seeing the Broadway musical The Bodyguard onstage was so much more “real” than a movie. Yes, the story is slightly superficial, just as the movie was. But really, the Broadway version of The Bodyguard, currently having a short but magnificent run (looked like a packed house) at the Salt Lake Eccles Theater isn’t about story. It’s about music–the beautiful sounds of Houston’s singing. If you loved her songs, and even if you aren’t familiar with them but you like gorgeous singing on a live stage, you must go see The Bodyguard at the Eccles.
First off, the show starts at 7:30 PM. I say this because sometimes the shows start at 8:00 PM (weekends) and I didn’t check my tickets (duh). So while I thought I was early, I was almost late. Readers, check your tickets! Learn from my foolishness. And Be Sure To Be On Time For The Bodyguard. You don’t want to miss the first few seconds. (How’s that for a teaser?) Be sitting in your seat and don’t have any food or drink in your mouth. I’ll say no more. You’ll have to trust me.
The plot is, as I’ve said, rather simple. Big recording star Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) gets creepy, threatening notes from an unknown Assassin (Stefan Raulston), and though Marron has a security team, it is decided that Frank Farmer (Judson Mills), who is the best bodyguard ever, will watch over Rachel personally. He is reluctant, but when he finds out that Rachel has a son, Fletcher, played so charmingly and fabulously by Kevelin B. Jones III (double cast with Sebastian Maynard-Palmer) Farmer agrees to the gig. As with many love stories (that are so unreal to true life) Rachel and Frank hate each other. But close proximity and the fact that both of them are very nice, kind, good-looking and unattached people helps to bridge the gap. For me, some of the cutest scenes in the show were actually between Farmer and Fletcher, and when Things Change (trying not to give any spoilers), I felt the sorriest for Fletcher, who had developed a dear relationship with his mother’s bodyguard. My other favorite scene was at the karaoke bar. It was spectacular, funny, and charming.
The Assassin is spooky, helped along by lighting by Lighting Designer Mark Henderson. There are a lot of people standing in a spotlight in this show, as you can imagine. But The Assassin stands still in the light, and this is so effective. It shows their isolation, their vulnerability. No-one stands with them in that small circle of light. Very powerful.
The other plot point is Rachel’s sister Nikki (Naomi C. Walley), who sings just as great as her sister but has been put into the background–why? It’s never really told to us except that maybe Rachel wanted it more. Nikki develops feelings for Frank in an always the bridesmaid never the bride kind of thing, and it made me sad. I probably identified more with Nikki, and Walley pulled all those feelz out of me. She is sweet, wildly talented, beautiful, and–in the story–pathetic–all in the best way for this story.
The plot meanders along, but as I said earlier, it’s not why we came to see The Bodyguard. We came to see the singing, the dancing, the charming love letter to Whitney Houston and we get so much! All Houston’s popular songs are here, some sung by Rachel, some sung by Nikki. All the ensemble numbers are to highlight Rachel, and even the number that’s being rehearsed, and everyone’s in their dance rehearsal clothes, is amazing. The ones that show her onstage, complete with fabulous costumes (Set and Costume Designer Tim Hatley) are just as fantastic–we are at a real, live concert, with lights all over and dancing, dancing, dancing that shakes up the stage by Choreographer Karen Bruce. With most musicals, the songs are written to move the plot along. In The Bodyguard, there are no new songs–all are Houston’s hits, and the story line is created to include the songs at the right time. Fortunately, Houston’s popularity as a torch singer as well as a pop star fills out this show nicely, and every time someone sings, I could hear this electrical sigh of fandom. The audience was definitely there because they love Whitney Houston.
Sound Designer Richard Brooker gives us just the right pop sound, and the live orchestra conducted at our performance by Matthew Smedal keeps us hopping (literally at the end of the show.) Videos were cast on the curtains and such and this was very effective by Video Designer Duncan McClean. Director Thea Sharrock presents just the right layers for this production, the combination of fun and lively and soft and bittersweet is perfect.
Larisa and Jennifer both got to meet the stars of The Bodyguard after the show by special invitation to Front Row Reviewers Utah. We found both Cox and Mills to be charming, very fun, high energy, lovely, and gracious. We got our photo with them and they are very real and kind. It is probably this fact, in part, why The Bodyguard is so indentifiable–the leads are very immersed in their characters, and know the audience will be instantly in love with them because we are there to see Whitney Houston, who continues to be a beloved star long after her unfortunate and much bereaved death in 2012.
The Bodyguard is a lovely show, though I wouldn’t recommend it for younger kids. There are a few jump scenes (the first one really gave me a start–I’m not kidding), and some references at the beginning of the show that might upset younger kids. However, if you have tweens or teens who are big Whitney fans, make sure they see this show. They will love you forever. The Bodyguard is a Broadway show and is for every Whitney Houston fan ever. Come see it while it’s still here. You’ll be glad you did. (Oh! And don’t leave after the bows. Just take my word for it.)
Broadway at the Eccles presents The Bodyguard, Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Delta Hall at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main Street, SLC, UT 84111
December 5-10, 12/5-7 7:30 PM, 12/8-9 8:00 PM, 12/9 2:00 PM, 12/10 1:00 PM, 6:30 PM
Contact: 385-468-1030, email@example.com
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The Bodyguard Facebook Event Page