The Bodyguard: Singing Along Because I Love the Music. The Play Not So Much.

Jasmin Richard as Nikki Marron and Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Jasmin Richardson as Nikki Marron and Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron. Photo by Joan Marcus.

I will admit that I had a smile on my face when I left the Oriental Theatre after seeing The Bodyguard.  But, while I was smiling and singing along with the great classics such as “Queen of the Night” and “Run to You,” the night felt more like a live cover concert of Whitney Houston classics than a cohesive musical. The screenplay by Alexander Dinelaris, adapted from the 1992 film, tries to somewhat modernize the details, while the direction by Thea Sharrock mimicked the specific cheesiness of the ’90s. (During one scene in particular, my theater companions and I made the comparison to the General Hospital theme in the ’90s.)   The night was just that, a mix of cheesy melodrama and impressive vocals singing the award-winning soundtrack that I know and love.

The show starts with a bang, before we are introduced to Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox), scream-inducing superstar on tour, and also in the race to win an Academy Award. Rachel needs a bodyguard as she is being stalked in creepy letters by a man who apparently doesn’t like shirts (Jorge Paniagua).  Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) is just the stoic man for the job.  While Frank inserts himself into Rachel’s life, decides where she should brunch, and makes sure her sister (Jasmin Richardson) gets home from her own gig safely, and bonds with Rachel’s son Fletcher, Rachel protests often, putting herself in danger.

As the show progresses we can see the resemblance to the film, which allows us to follow along.   The audience, especially those around me, knew the storyline already so they also knew what was coming and accepted the jumps regardless.  However, to a newcomer, the jump from bodyguard and client to a couple on a date at a karaoke bar to in bed and in love is quite the leap.  A few additional (and short scenes) could have helped the relationship develop more subtly or the transitions between the scenes in general could have been less stark with harsh moving set pieces. One successful plotline, the unraveling of Rachel’s jealous sister, Nikki Marron, who longs for attention and success like her sister’s, was due to the outstanding performance of Jasmin Richardson.  Richardson’s vocals were particularly noteworthy, leaving me wishing she had more numbers.

In fact, the musical numbers themselves are the perfect reason to go to this show.  No surprise that Grammy® Award-nominee, Deborah Cox, had no trouble belting out the songs of the soundtrack made famous by Whitney Houston. She didn’t try to mimic Houston, but does a great job paying tribute with songs like “How Will I Know” and “I Have Nothing.” Her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” had the audience erupting with applause and cheers.  The music and the laughs leave you smiling at the very end. And trust me, stay to the very end.

The Bodyguard is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., and ends its short run in Chicago on Sunday, February 12. Buy tickets here.

Kristen Urchell
Kristen Urchell