Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of THE BODYGUARD: THE MUSICAL at Paper Mill Playhouse
The film version of The Bodyguard had opened in 1992 to somewhat mixed reviews (a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and yet was still the second highest-grossing film worldwide for that year (with a best-selling soundtrack as well). Lawrence Kasdan (of The Big Chill, Body Heat, Continental Divide fame) penned the mystery/thriller for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross back in the mid-70s. When that casting fell apart and sixty-seven rejections later, it was made with Kevin Costner (who sported a “McQueen ’do”) and Whitney Houston in her acting debut. Over time, it has reached iconic status; it is one of my all-time favorite films.
Needless to say, I had some trepidation when I heard that The Bodyguard was going to tour nationally. As I’ve noted in prior reviews, I believe that from a structural perspective it is much easier to adapt a stage play to a film rather than the other way around just because of the expansive creative nature of the cinematic medium. I was only mildly impressed with the theatrical adaptation of Ghost. (I never saw the theatrical version of one of my favorite films – Rocky. I hope it sees a revival!) And then there are the dramatic successes of theatrical versions of The Producers and Dirty Dancing, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I remember rhetorically asking my wife (and co-writer/reviewer) at the time, how can they possibly adapt a film like The Bodyguard to a stage play and still capture all of the action, the locales, the nuances of the film?
I am thrilled to report that the theatrical version of The Bodyguard (which premiered at the Tony Award-winning Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey) stands on its own footing as an exciting and riveting piece of theatre and now ranks as one of my all-time favorite stage plays. The book by Alexander Dinelaris wonderfully captures the quintessential nature of the film. Thea Sharrock did a masterful job directing this complex compilation of dramatic acting, multimedia special effects, brilliant staging and blocking, with a wonderfully arranged and updated soundtrack. The sets and costumes (thanks to Set and Costume Designer Tim Hatley) were stunning. The choreography by Karen Bruce was simply smashing. My bad because I do not always recognize these essential elements in reviewing a play, but the lighting design (by Mark Henderson), video design (by Duncan McLean) and sound design (by Richard Brooker) sated the senses.
Now let’s talk about casting. Kasdan intended for the original screenplay to be a star vehicle for two of the biggest stars at the time – Diana Ross and Steve McQueen. Who could possibly fill their shoes? No wonder it took sixty-seven rejections and twenty years before two suitable superstars like Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston were cast as the romantic leads. Could anyone fill their shoes? There is only one Kevin Costner and one Whitney Houston and one iconic film called The Bodyguard.
After seeing this tour de force, however, I can now say that there is only one Deborah Cox and one Judson Mills and one thoroughly engaging and satisfying theatrical drama called The Bodyguard: The Musical. Debra Cox was MasterCard priceless as Rachel Marron. Her acting and singing were flawless. Her glass shattering crescendos in “I Will Always Love You” gave me chills. Veteran television and film actor Judson Mills filled Costner shoes nicely as the rough and tumble yet charismatic bodyguard, Frank Farmer. Mr. Farmer had great stage presence as well as a real, palpable chemistry with his co-star Ms. Cox. His comedic touches, especially during a karaoke scene which was not in the film, were excellent.
The rest of this extremely talented cast were knock-down-drag-out perfect. Jasmin Richardson as Nicki Marron, served as the perfect foil to her famous sister. In addition to her strong acting, her singing voice was incredible. Jorge Paniagua showed his versatile range and his well-honed acting chops (as well as his well-toned six-pack abs) as the creepy Stalker. Douglas Baldeo, who Pillow Talking loved in the National Tour of Motown, was superb as Fletcher, Rachel Marron’s son. If he is this good now, one can just imagine the enormous talent he will be before he even graduates high school. From one paisan to another, Alex Corrado was spot-on as Tony Scibelli, the head of Rachel Marron’s security – playing the character with just the right mix of gruff veneer and underlying sentimentality. Rounding out the principal cast, were the abundantly talented, Charles Gray as Bill Devaney, Jonathan Hadley as Sy Spector, and Jarid Faubel as Ray Court/Ensemble. Although I usually do not single out all members of the Ensemble because of spatial limitations, this rule has to be broken here where the Ensemble enhanced and contributed to every artistic aspect of the show. So kudos to: Arielle Campbell, Brendon Chan, Megan Elyse Fulmer, Emily Jenda, Alejandra Matos, Bradford Rahmlow, Benjamin Rivera, Sean Rozanski, Matthew Schmidt, Jaquez André Sims, Lauren Tanner, Naomi C. Walley, Willie Dee, and Maria Cristina Slye.
The Bodyguard: The Musical is more than a love story, more than a musical, more than a thriller. It is theater at its best and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its cinematic doppelganger.
Classic nineties. Classic Whitney. Classic Costner. The 1992 Warner Bros. film The Bodyguard. I loved it then – and with a timelessness that still resonates – I still love it today. Hearing that it was to be made into a musical more than piqued my interest. It’s a great love story and has a tremendous soundtrack (best-selling of all time) performed by one of the – sadly-gone-too-soon – best voices in the entire music industry. And as writers ourselves who’ve also transformed books to screenplays to stage plays (and vice versa) we were beyond curious to see the adaptation.
So what do you get when you take an unbelievable, accomplished talent like Grammy Award-nominated, multi-platinum singer-songwriter, as well as film and TV actress, Deborah Cox; pair her with Judson Mills, a terrific film and TV actor with an incredible resume himself; as well as numerous other very talented actors – then add in a company of knock-down-drag-out extraordinary dancers with mind-blowing choreography (credit to Karen Bruce) and a beautiful book by Alexander Dinelaris? You have a staggeringly magnificent, powerhouse production of The Bodyguard: The Musical directed by Thea Sharrock (who notably also directed Equus with Daniel Radcliffe and her debut film, Me Before You, among many others). With an opening that sears through the theatre like a bullet from a gun, it is NON-STOP, heart-thumping, foot-stomping excitement that leaves you alternately smiling, laughing, crying, and holding your breath all the while.
Where better to begin the North American debut of its national tour but at the incomparable Paper Mill Playhouse, winner of the 2016 Regional Theatre Tony Award? With a rich history including numerous world premiere productions and host to such legends as Liza Minelli, Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters, Chita Rivera, and Lynn Redgrave (the list goes on and on…) The Bodyguard: The Musical marks its first US premiere. If the chatter during intermission as well as on the way out of the theatre after curtain was any indication, there wasn’t a soul present who didn’t get caught up in the fervor.
In brief (if you’ve never seen the film), you’ve got a diva recording artist named Rachel Marron (played by Cox on stage and in the film by Houston) who’s being stalked by an unknown lunatic (Jorge Paniagua). Frank Farmer, a former Secret Service agent, begrudgingly becomes her bodyguard (played by Judson; Costner in the film) after he’s approached by her manager Bill Devaney (Charles Gray), and is hired to protect her, her son, Fletcher (Douglas Baldeo), her sister Nicki (Jasmin Richardson), and her estate. Her publicist, Sy Spector (Jonathan Hadley), and former bodyguard, Tony Scibelli (Alex Corrado), are none too pleased. Sparks of all kinds fly and the thrilling plot takes numerous twists and turns, as do the incredible dancers who are featured throughout the production.
There is so much to love about The Bodyguard: The Musical. Cox channels Houston but at the same time makes Rachel her own. Judson is a phenomenal leading man, bringing warmth, masculinity, in addition to some healthy doses of humor to the role of Frank. Richardson is a rival talent (as Nicki is to Rachel) with a spectacular powerhouse voice as well. Paniagua is chilling perfection as The Stalker; Gray is terrific as the paternal Devaney. Hadley is wonderful as Sy, the cloying and self-serving publicist. Corrado is a bold presence as Tony (and he tosses out some great dance moves himself!). Last but certainly not least is Baldeo as Fletcher, whom we were fortunate to see in Motown: The Musical. Like Cox, he has the ability to channel the greats and I can say he’s as close to a dead-ringer for a young Michael Jackson as one could get, with all the legend’s energetic, animated moves and charisma. (Kevelin B. Jones III alternates with Baldeo).
Other incredible performances are given by Matthew Schmidt as Klingman, Douglas, DJ, Jimmy, Stage Manager, Host, and Ensemble; Bradford Rahmlow as Assassin, Rory, and Ensemble; Jarid Faubel as Ray Court and Ensemble; Megan Elyse Fulmer, Emily Jenda, Naomi C. Walley as College Girls and Ensemble; and Arielle Campbell, Brendon Chan, Alejandra Matos, Benjamin Rivera (Dance Captain), Sean Rozanski (Fight Captain), Jaquez André Sims, and Lauren Tanner as Ensemble. Only in my dreams could I imagine being capable of the dance moves this troupe delivers.
It is difficult if not impossible not to make comparisons to the film, although you need not have seen it to appreciate this spectacular production. To note: Marron’s character has been enhanced for the musical, whereas Farmer’s role (in the screenplay written by Lawrence Kasdan) was more prominent in the film. Regardless, this is well more than a “jukebox” musical although it is every bit as jam-packed with recognizable, sing-able (or in my case, just hummable—you wouldn’t want to hear me sing) tunes; Dinelaris kept well to the narrative, incorporating the songs exceptionally well into the storyline and updating it to reflect today’s pop culture. And one also doesn’t have to be a product of the nineties to appreciate the powerful melodies of: “Queen of the Night,” “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “Run to You,” “I’m Every Woman,” and “I Will Always Love You,” to name just a few.
In a touring production, it is not feasible to mention everyone’s contributions, but shout-outs must go to Tim Hatley for dazzling set design with its multiple and seamless, if not constant shifts and changes as well as his brilliant costume design. And a musical of this caliber could not work without the remarkable input from Mark Henderson for lighting design; Duncan McLean for video design; Richard Brooker for sound design; Mike Dixon for production musical supervision and vocal arrangements; Chris Egan for orchestrations and additional music; and Matthew Smedal for musical direction/conducting, as well as the entire orchestra.
This one is a must-see! Paper Mill is a grand host but if you must, catch it somewhere – anywhere!