Dallas — Brush up on your Whitney Houston catalogue and be prepared to sing along with a couple thousand of your closest friends as you experience The Bodyguard: The Musical, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals at the Music Hall at Fair Park, through July 30, and in partnership with Performing Arts Fort Worth for a Bass Performance Hall run Aug. 1-6. Based on the 1992 film of the same name with a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and the musical book adapted by Alexander Dinelaris, the production features all the Whitney favorites of the movie plus additional tunes from her collection of smash hits. Musical director Matthew Smedal conducts the live orchestra.
If you were puzzled last year when DSM announced its 2017 season, wondering where this musical came from, you’re not alone. It hasn’t seen The Great White Way yet (some rumors suggest it’s aiming for New York) but got its start on London’s West End in 2013. Directed by Thea Sharrock, it’s seen massive success with its international tours, and finally came to North America in 2016, headlined by R&B recording artist Deborah Cox, who last visited the Dallas stage in a tour of Jekyll & Hyde at AT&T Performing Arts Center in 2012.
Another common reaction upon hearing that yet another mediocre film had received the musical treatment was a collective eye roll among the performing arts community. The movie isn’t exactly a masterpiece, and its high box office numbers almost solely came from Houston’s much-anticipated screen debut and the hit-loaded soundtrack.
So, I’m going to get this out of the way right off the bat, because you all know it to be true.
The musical itself is nothing to write home about. It’s downright silly in many places.
But just as we glossed over a cheesy script and tepid Kevin Costner performance in favor of Whitney, so should we allow this show a similar treatment. The production is truly about the experience, and the adventure that awaits patrons at the Hall is quite enjoyable. Audience members travel through a wide range of emotions and reactions, singing along with our favorite Whitney tunes, feeling dazzled by the dancing and spectacle, laughing at the attempts at suspense, feeling hearts race when the attempts actually work, and groaning at moments of uninspired line delivery.
The musical’s plot runs similar to the film’s, with a few adjustments that keep the general trajectory intact. Grammy-winning superstar Rachel Marron (Cox) finds herself the target of a stalker, so former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer (handsome TV star Judson Mills) is hired to protect her and track down the threats. What starts as a battle of wills melts into a passionate romance, including a love triangle (a deviation from the film), as Rachel’s sister Nicki (Jasmin Richardson) falls for him as well. Dinelaris sets the stage show in the present day, utilizing current technologies and fashions, which feels a little off given the strong nostalgic attachments to the time period in which the film premiered.
Let’s get something else out of the way. Cox is no Houston, nor should she try to be. Nobody is. If you walk into the theater expecting a Whitney voice belting “I Will Always Love You,” you will be disappointed. Cox has her own sound, and although it lacks the rich soulfulness that allowed Whitney her range, she’s still a remarkable performer.
Richardson, however, comes close to that sound, with many in the audience preferring her vibrant renditions of “Saving All My Love” and “All at Once.” The two are quite different, so a comparison isn’t exactly fair, but Richardson can definitely hold her own alongside Cox.
They’re not the only standouts. Kevelin B. Jones III (playing Fletcher on Wednesday night) impresses with his dancing and singing, and manages to avoid the robotic or forced deliveries many child performers convey. Grand Prairie native Willie Dee portrays a snappy Rory (Marron’s choreographer), and he (along with Brendon Chan, Jaquez André Sims, and Benjamin Rivera) splendidly execute Karen Bruce’s choreography.
The entire ensemble, actually, makes the spectacle worthwhile. From an ’80s-inspired “How Will I Know” (with a great locking section) to a sensual “Queen of the Night” to a Latin-flavored “I’m Every Woman,” the dancing is decidedly a high point.
Fortunately, they’re not just one-trick ponies. Megan Elyse Fulmer, Dequina Moore, and Naomi C. Walley almost steal the scene at the karaoke bar, with an intentionally awful rendition of “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” and subsequent behavior.
The show is more satisfying than one would expect, and there are plenty of things it gets right, some of which I dare not spoil here. It runs for about two hours and 25 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission and goes by rather quick. Patrons should take note that the show includes strobe lighting and gunshots, and DSM recommends this for ages 12 and up, likely due to language, some adult situations, and suspenseful moments.
Whether I’ve piqued your curiosity or you’ve been planning this for months, plenty of opportunities exist for the experience.