The Bodyguard: Hippodrome scores with Whitney Houston hit-rich show - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

The Bodyguard: Hippodrome scores with Whitney Houston hit-rich show

Deborah Cox in The Bodyguard: The Musical at the Hippodrome Theatre.

Deborah Cox dances it up in The Bodyguard at The Hippodrome Theatre.

In baseball, getting a hit just once every three times at bat is good enough to make a player a superstar. But if your life was under attack, and the game was real, one would hope that your security specialist would be batting with much better odds. Swinging wildly at such a tenacious threat is Frank Farmer; the title character in The Bodyguard – the current production at The Hippodrome.

Directed by Thea Sharrock, The Bodyguard is a musical re-boot of the 1992 film of the same name. Originally slated for Diana Ross and Ryan O’Neal, the movie starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. With an updated storyline / book by Alexander Dinelaris, and additional music from the Houston catalogue, The Bodyguard is a fast-paced look at the electrifying, though sometimes lonely, life of an entertainer besieged by a psychotic stalker.

Bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) carries singer Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) to safety in The Bodyguard: The Musical.

Bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) carries singer Rachel Marron (Deborah Cox) to safety in The Bodyguard.

As the play opens, we learn that Rachel Marron has an over-reaching fan. Sensing a real and present danger, her manager, Bill Devaney, seeks out Frank Farmer – a security expert with a maddening knack for striking out with the game on the line. To his credit, Farmer rightly sizes up the threat and restructures Rachel’s life to make her more secure. But his efforts set the couple on a collision course; at least until Rachel takes a shine to the well-armed man.

Fans of the original film will be pleased to know that, in addition to “One Moment in Time”, “I’m Every Woman”, “Run To You” and “I Have Nothing“, the musical adds several more Houston standards, including: “All at Once”, “All the Man That I Need”, “How Will I Know”, “So Emotional”, “Saving All My Love for You”, and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”.

There’s also Houston’s cover version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” – a cloying ballad if there ever was one, which frankly has been done to death.

Speaking of death, absent from the current production, of course, are Whitney Houston (now deceased) and Kevin Costner (whose career seems to be teetering on the great divide). In their place, Grammy-nominated singer Deborah Cox and Washington, D.C. native Judson Mills ably embody the roles of Rachel Marron and Frank Farmer.

Actually – ably is the wrong word here. Cox is phenomenal, and Mills delivers a strong and practically seamless performance. The beauty in pairing these actors is that the chemistry between them is palpable – no easy feat considering the external and inner tensions the two carry throughout the play. Cox also wisely opens the show with a bit of vocal restraint – assuring that her dynamic voice will last til the final notes of her operatic endeavor.

The supporting players are no less talented, so a tip of the hat to casting director Paul Hardt. Foremost in this group is Jasmin Richardson as Rachel’s jealous sister, Nikki Marron.

Rachel and Frank (Deborah Cox and Judson Mills) share a tender moment in The Bodyguard: The Musical.

Rachel and Frank (Deborah Cox and Judson Mills) share a tender moment.

Richardson’s heartfelt rendition of “Saving All My Love” is one of the quieter highlights of the show. Her stirring duets with Cox, (“Run To You” and “I Have Nothing”) simply cement the notion that the two are really sisters.

As the stalker, Jorge Paniagua is truly frightening – so much so that his curtain call was greeted with a chorus of appreciative boos. Other stand-outs are young Douglas Baldeo as Fletcher (the kid can really dance!); Alex Corrado as the very earthy security chief Tony Scibelli; Megan Elyse Fulmer, Dequina Moore and Naomi C. Walley as three tone-deaf karaoke “stars” and Jonathan Hadley as Rachel’s pushy producer Sy Spector.

Also look for Matthew Schmidt who shines in a number of minor roles, including that of the long-suffering karaoke DJ. (“Welcome back, Frank”, he says in the most sardonic strain.)

The costumes and set by Tim Hatley draw the viewer into the world of a pop-singer’s tour, with sparkling gowns which literally light up the theatre. The eight-piece band, under the baton of Matthew Smedal, produces a sometimes-too-loud but otherwise vibrant sound worthy of the wonderful voices on stage.

There are holes in the plot, but overall, The Bodyguard delivers where it counts the most. The music and the acting are both top-notch, and this show is highly recommended. You’ll be elated that, when the game is on the line, the hero hits a home run. But if you go, just be forewarned: You may find your paramour launching into random outbursts of “I Will Always Love You“.

* * * * *

The Bodyguard: The Musical runs now through March 5 at The Hippodrome Theatre. Running time for the show is a little over two hours with one fifteen minute intermission. Please note that this show uses gun shots, strobe lights, loud noises and smoke effects. The Hippodrome is located at 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information, visit The Hippodrome online or call the box office at 410-837-7400.


About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at The Washington Herald and an occasional contributor to the Voice of Baltimore, Tony's poetry, humor and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!; Magic Octopus Magazine; Destination Maryland; Alvarez Fiction and Tales of Blood and Roses. Contact the author.
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