By MIKE CHAIKEN
“The Bodyguard,” which opened at The Bushnell on Feb. 20, essentially is a long form music video tribute to the music of the late Whitney Houston.
The music of Houston, who starred in the original film “The Bodyguard” that served as the basis of the stage musical, serves as the spine of the show. And when the focus is on the music, again and again, the cast delivered a powerhouse performance.
Jasmin Richardson, who stepped in as understudy for Deborah Cox as the lead character Rachel Marron, had amazing chops in tackling songs that long had been identified with Houston’s powerful voice.
DeQuina Moore, standing in for the character of Nikki Carron, also proved to be a vocal delight, even as a cast member typically found in the ensemble.
The fact that the understudies impressed on Houston’s classics says something for the musical talent gathered for this road tour.
The crowd was on its feet for a standing ovation even before the final notes of Richardson’s performance of “I Will Always Love You” faded away to conclude the show.
The choreography by Karen Bruce also was energetic and clearly created in the spirit of the music videos that cemented Houston’s reputation in the minds of music fans of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The lighting by Mark Henderson and sound design by Richard Brooker did a fine job of injecting tension and a sense of urgency into the proceedings.
From a musical concert point of view, “The Bodyguard” was a wow.
But as a stage drama, oh boy… it was cringe-worthy.
The story is about a super pop star, who not only wins Grammys but is up for an Oscar, whose life is in danger because of an obsessed stalker. A bodyguard, Frank Farmer (played by Judson Mills) is hired to protect her.
“The Bodyguard” is an odd choice for a musical adaptation, first of all. The film, except for its presence of Houston, is pretty much forgotten in the annals of Hollywood. It doesn’t even qualify as a cult hit.
And the storyline was kind of silly.
The book for the stage musical by Alexander Dinelaris doesn’t get less silly despite a little bit of an update (smartphones are everywhere).
There’s not polite way to say this but the dialogue simply is cringe-worthy.
Also, the injection of Houston’s songs into the plot just don’t make any sense.
The direction by Thea Sharrock is clunky, wooden, and amateurish.
It all seemed an afterthought to the music.
Jukebox musicals are tough. Creative teams have to find someone way of injecting songs—that were written without a stage musical in mind—into the plot in a way that makes sense. There are some shows that have done it well, like “Mamma Mia!” “Jersey Boys” or “Moving Out!” However, there are more out there that were clearly done for the cash not the love for the art.
And “The Bodyguard” clearly is about the cash—getting a show out on the road and using the ghost of Whitney Houston to put fannies in the seats. The songs just don’t make sense with the plot.
The audience, however, clearly loved the show. The standing ovation of the audience was nearly complete.
But I’m going to guess the ovation was inspired more by the music than the script, which like a long-form music video, seems to be an afterthought.
So, if you love the music of Whitney Houston, and you want to see some fantastic singers, talented musicians, and fabulous dancing, “The Bodyguard”will be your thing.
However, I warn you, you might just want to bring a book to read when the band goes silent and the dialogue begins.
I give “The Bodyguard” at The Bushnell in Hartford on Feb. 20 two out of four stars.
“The Bodyguard” continues at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford on Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 6:30 p.m., and for matinees on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
For tickets, go to www.Bushnell.org