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The Bodyguard, Starring Soul Diva Deborah Cox, Plays Memphis Orpheum Theatre January 24 – 29

The stage musical adaptation of the hit film “The Bodyguard” will play at Memphis’ Orpheum Theatre January 24 – 29. It stars Grammy-nominated and multi-platinum R&B artist and film/TV actress Deborah Cox (Broadway “Aida” and “Jekyll & Hyde” revival) as idolized singer/actress Rachel Marron, with Judson Mills (Film/TV, including “Westworld” and “Walker, Texas Ranger”) as Frank Farmer, former Secret Service agent, now a bodyguard for hire to the rich and famous.

The musical is closely adapted – with one huge exception – on the 1962 Warner Bros. film, which starred Whitney Houston and Kevin Kostner. It’s rumored that the show will land on Broadway in late 2017 or 2018.
Award-winning Brit Thea Sharrock (U.K./Broadway “Equus” starring Daniel Radcliffe) is director, with book adapted from Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay by Alexander Dinelaris, one of the four Oscar-winning screenwriters of 2015 Best Picture “Birdman” …
Houston fans will be in heaven with the 16 mostly-chart topping tunes written by numerous pop composers. They include with “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton, a smash for Parton and Houston, “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,””I’m Every Woman,” “All the Man that I Need,” “So Emotional,” “One Moment in Time,” “Saving ALL My Love,” “Run to You,” and “I Have Nothing.” The tunes are cleverly placed as concert numbers and book moments.
It’s a heavy load, but Cox has the pipes to deliver. She not only has great stage presence but also stamina. She’s rarely off stage during the two-hour abridgment of the film [with 20-minute intermission].
When she’s given a break, audiences will be mesmerized by the powerhouse voice of Jasmin Richardson, who plays Rachel’s sister Nicki, who acts as her secretary and confidant but also has dreams of stardom. You may recognize her from Clinique ads or seen her on tour with “Memphis” and “Dreamgirls.” Considering her very important featured role and stunning voice, it’s surprising she’s not given special billing.
Mills is handsome and macho and adequately goes through the paces, but with more stage experience he would really shine. Chemistry is vital for Frank and Rachel to fall in love. Blame it on the abridgement, but it happens a bit too fast – especially since they get off to a very rocky start.
In addition to five featured cast members, which include standout youngsters Douglas Baldeo and Kevelin B. Jones III, alternating as Rachel’s son Fletcher, there’s an ensemble of 13.
“The Bodyguard” is pretty much a by-the-books adaptation of the screenplay. Frank is brought aboard to protect superstar Rachel after she receives threats of bodily harm from a stalker obsessed with her. We never find out why he is or what has turned him so drastically against her. In one precarious moment, with Rachel performing for avid fans, Frank spots the stalker, rushes to the stage, and copying that iconic moment from the film and which is well-staged, sweeps her into his arms and carries her off.
You might have expected more from Dinelaris. This romantic thriller never rises much above pulp level or an extravagant soap-opera. One of the show’s highlights is the date Frank takes Rachel on. Instead of a busy café, as in the film, it’s a dive of a karaoke bar, where she dares him to sing. Before we hear Rachel sing “I Will Always Love You,” Frank, who admits he can’t sing a note, murders it. To prove her credentials, she follows with “I Have Nothing,” which segues into a big-belt, heavily-orchestrated triumph.
The stage version opens just as the film does – with a jolting loud bang – gunshots ringing out that will surely elicit gasps. Fans of the film will be quite startled by a quite drastic change from the screenplay Dinelaris makes re: Nicki’s role. No spoiler here: but, as in the film, she’s also attracted to Frank, especially when she sees how Rachel initially treats him – believing his tight security is denying access to her fans. Act Two deals with Frank questioning not only his attraction to Nicki, but also if he can have it both ways – be in love and remain focused on protecting his star. Of course, Nicki’s fervor grows along with jealously when she realizes he’ll never be hers. And then …
“The Bodyguard,” seemingly set present day, has glitzy Vegas revue-style costumes and gorgeous and sexy gowns for Cox by Tim Hatley. There’s nothing original about the choreography by U.K. Olivier winner Karen Bruce. It’s also Vegas-style.
Music director/keyboardist Matthew Smedal conducts a seven-piece orchestra which often sounds like a full symphony. Sadly, the usual overamplification encountered in today’s musicals which, with the addition of back-up singers, makes it difficult to hear Cox in the production numbers. Luckily, a majority of the audience, especially Houston fans, know the tunes. The musical moments that really shine are the quiet ones, such as when Rachel sits at a piano or sings longingly of wanted to be loved for more than her thunderous applause.
“The Bodyguard” debuted on London’s West End in 2012, starring R&B recording artist/TV star Beverly Knight. It was nominated for four Olivier Awards, including Best Musical and won Whatsonstage’s Award for Best Musical. The show has toured the U.K. and is now back on the West End, starring R&B artist Alexandra Burke (U.K. “X-Factor” winner, “Color Purple,” and “Sister Act” tour. She headlines the cast recording (First Night Records).
Essential information:
“The Bodyguard” has a few low-level risqué moments, but, other than violent mayhem, it’s fairly PG-13.
“Bodyguard” tickets are available at www.orpheum-memphis.com, along with a “sneak peek” video. Other SE and SW dates: Nashville, TPAC, 3/21 – 26; Atlanta, Fox Theatre, 3/28 – 4/2; New Orleans, Saenger Theatre, 4/4 – 9; Dallas, Fair Park Music Hall, 7/18 – 30; Forth Worth, Bass Hall, 8/1 – 6; and Houston, Hobby Center, 8/15- 20.

Ellis Nassour is an Ole Miss alum and noted arts journalist and author who recently donated an ever-growing exhibition of performing arts history to the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the best-selling Patsy Cline biography, Honky Tonk Angel, as well as the hit musical revue, Always, Patsy Cline.
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