Friday, May 5, 2017

Deborah Cox Rises And Shines In 'The Bodyguard'

By Darlene Donloe

The highly-anticipated opening of The Bodyguard at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, proved to be well worth the wait.

There was slick costumes, effective lighting, dancing, boundless energy, a familiar story, fantastic music and, more importantly, the star power of Deborah Cox!

Cox, a Grammy-nominee who is no stranger to being center stage, commands the stage in the role of Rachel Marron, a superstar singer who is being stalked by a mysterious man.  The role was made famous by Whitney Houston, who played Marron in the hit 1992 film by the same name.  The role and the movie’s soundtrack skyrocketed Houston’s career, especially her rendition of the Dolly Parton hit song, I Will Always Love You, which became one of Houston’s signature songs.

This touring production takes some artistic license. It adds some songs and scenarios that were not in the movie. It’s OK.  There are moments that seem like either a Deborah Cox concert of a Whitney Houston concert. Either way, the audience wins!

The show started off with a bang, literally and figuratively, and proceeds at warp speed – keeping the appreciative audience bopping in their seats, gasping occasionally, stomping their feet and applauding frequently and loudly from start to finish.

Cox wasn’t on stage by herself. She seems to be channeling Houston with her confident strides across the stage and her incredibly impressive pipes.

This screen to stage musical is the perfect vehicle for Cox who has settled into the role and made it her own.

The Bodyguard is about Rachel Marron, a superstar singer, who is threatened by a mysterious stalker.  Enter Frank Farmer, who is hired to protect Marron and her 10-year-old son, Fletcher, played aptly by Kevelin B. Jones III.

Judson Mills plays Frank Farmer, the dashing, no-nonsense former Secret Service Agent that becomes Marron’s bodyguard. Well, he’s no-nonsense until he warbles his way through some karaoke while on a date with Marron. Mills has a strong and virile presence on stage.

The chemistry between Mills and Cox is palpable – evidenced by the female squeals and male whistles of approval that permeated from the celebrity-heavy opening night audience every time the two embraced.

The wonderful ensemble of actors also includes Jasmine Richardson who plays, Nicki, Marron’s sister.   Her role, which was limited in the movie, is expanded and helps to move the story forward. In the show she plays a sister whose vocal chops come close to equaling those of her highly-successful sister. Unbeknownst to Marron, Nicki has eyes for Farmer. Once she realizes her sister has also one-upped her in the romance department, Nicki begins to unravel.  She has a secret that is the crux of the show.

Each actor is worth noting, as there is no weak link in the bunch.

Thea Sharrock has put together an entertaining show. There are, however, some moments that obviously don’t work even though,  overall, the show is a hit.

For instance, each time the stalker is shown whether on a projection screen or in a spotlight with dramatic music, the audience chuckles. It’s a dramatic moment that shouldn’t initiate laughs.  There is a moment when Frank Farmer’s face is shown, larger than life, on a screen that also elicits some chuckles. It, too, was not supposed to be a comedic moment.  It makes for an awkward moment.  The video-enhanced moments of violence don't totally hit their mark, but it doesn’t take away from the show. Ok, there are a couple of glitches, but in its totality, this show is a whirlwind from start to finish.

Sans the set for the cabin Marron escapes to with Farmer, the set designs are not impressive, but they do their job.  After all, the music is the show!  There are hits like All At Once, All The Man That I Need, Greatest Love of All, How Will I know, I have Nothing, I’m Every Woman, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, I Will Always Love You, Jesus Loves Me, Million Dollar Bill, One Moment In Time, Queen of the Night, Run To You, Saving All My Love, So Emotional and Where Do Broken Hearts Go.

Matthew Smedal’s musical direction and Mike Dixon’s vocal arrangements keep the show moving forward. Some of the songs in the show

This is a show you do not want to miss. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable night of theater.

The Bodyguard stars Deborah Cox, Judson Mills, Douglas Baldeo, Kevelin B. Jones III, Alex Corrado, Jarid Faubel, Charles Gray, Jonathan Hadley, Jorge Paniagua, Jasmin Richardson, Brendon Chan, Willie Dee, Megan Elyse Fulmer, Alejandra Matos, Dequina Moore, Bradford Rahmlow, Benjamin Rivera, Sean Rozanski, Matthew Schmidt, Jaquez Andre Sims, Maria Cristina Slye, Nicole Spencer, Lauren Tanner and Naomi C. Walley.

The orchestra included: music director/keys: Matthew Smedal; Associate Music Director/keys: Wendell Vaughn; Woodwinds: Owen Broder; trumpet: David D. Torres; guitar: Michael Karcher, Ralph Agresta; bass: John Toney; drums: Joe McCarthy; music coordinator: Talitha Fehr (TL Music International).

The local orchestra included: clarinet, flute, tenor sax, EWI: John Yoakum, trumpet/flugelhorn: Wayne Bergeron; guitar 2/acoustic guitar/electric guitar: Paul Viapiano: keyboard sub: William Malpede, orchestra contractor: Brian Miller.

The Bodyguard, The Pantages, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; through May 21, 2017, 8 p.m. Tues-Sat, 2 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun. through May 21; Tickets start at $35; For information: (323) 468-1770.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t know), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), The Bodyguard gets an E (excellent).

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