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Starting with a cannon blast and ending with a dance encore, “The Bodyguard” is guaranteed to keep you awake. For better and worse, the stage production is a very faithful adaption of the film of the same name. The best is a collection of beautifully sung Whitney Houston songs. The worst is a murder plot that seems to exist solely to bring the two characters together. Chances are if you saw and enjoyed the movie, the musical will match or exceed your expectations.
Whether or not you saw the 1992 film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, you can probably guess the plot.
Rachel Marron (Jasmin Richardson) is a superstar with a stalker problem, and in need of a bodyguard. Former secret service agent Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) fills that role. After some initial resistance, the two make up, break up and he saves her from harm. It’s a convoluted plot, even for a romantic thriller, and Alexander Dinelaris’ stage adaptation leaves all of the narrative flaws of the film intact. Of course, the draw of the film and this show is the soundtrack which is still the greatest selling soundtrack of all time. The show includes 16 total Whitney Houston songs, and includes every tune from the film and many more. With powerhouse hits like “Queen of the Night,” “I Have Nothing,” “I’m Every Woman,” “Run to You” and of course “I Will Always Love You,” “The Bodyguard” is fueled and weighed down by its reverence to Houston — there really are only so many ballads one show can handle.
It’s even more challenging given that the starring role is being played by the understudy; Deborah Cox, the advertised star, recently fell ill. While Richardson doesn’t have the extensive musical resume as Cox, she does have the perfect voice and mannerisms for the character. Rachel is a sheltered pop star with a golden voice and Richardson channels that inner diva while providing just enough humanity for Farmer and the audience to fall for. Richardson perfectly matches Houston’s tones and cadences without feeling like an imitation. Richardson’s best numbers are the duets with her sister Nicki Marron (DeQuina Moore).
Mills is reliably stoic as Farmer. A guy of few words with high standards and a code of honor, but Mills gets his moment to shine while loosening up at a karaoke bar.
The rest of the cast is solid, this includes Rachel’s son Fletcher (Kevelin B. Jones III), but their dialogue is so flat that they rarely get a chance to shine. One of those moments comes out however, near the end of the first act. On “Run to You,” Rachel and Nicki sing a duet in separate rooms that’s actually quite moving. It’s a reminder that there’s a story of estranged sisters split by fame and jealousy buried under a stupid murder plot.
The rest of the show is colorful sequins and sparkles, largely emanating from the glitzy costumes and constantly moving walls of the set designed by Tim Hatley. This is paralleled by the sharp and extremely athletic choreography by Karen Bruce, and the live band led by Matthew Smedal is also a nice touch that updates the soundtrack so it doesn’t sound like 1992.
Concluding with “I Will Always Love You” complete with a rising platform and a disco ball dress, and an encore of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “The Bodyguard” is made for the fans of the film and Whitney Houston.
“The Bodyguard” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18-Thursday, Oct. 19; 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22 Tickets start at $43/$29 students Wharton Center 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing (517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com