"The Bodyguard" seems a safe bet as a theatrical musical -- a proven hit on screen with a familiar story and songs that millions of fans know and love.
But, the music aside, that's exactly what undermines the adaptation of the hit 1992 Whitney Houston film, showing through Jan. 28 at Detroit's Fisher Theatre, on stage.
The production, launched on London's West End at the end of 2012, suffers from a lack of any mystery. We know how it ends -- or can readily find out. We know what happens scene to scene. We know all about the plot arcs and twists, the character developments, the romantic entanglements. Save for a few jolting "gotcha" moments, "The Bodyguard" is the movie on stage -- nothing less, and certainly not more.
And in that regard it's also a case study of the perils of trying to recreate cinema in the theater. With its spare, albeit functional and occasionally splashy, stage sets, "The Bodyguard" simply can't match the pacing, tension and depth of image to match its big screen counterpart, which gives the show a kind of bland, clunky slowness as a cast that exhibits precious little genuine chemistry moves from scene to scene.
The charge of the show's most interesting protagonist, bodyguard Frank Farmer (played capably by Judson Mills) is also problematic. The stiff, stoic reserve of Kevin Costner's film role does not play well on the stage, where the implied simmer in the character never quite comes through. Farmer's relationship with his client, singer Rachel Marron, ebbs and flows much too quickly, and superficially; It's hard to buy into her initial resistance to his presence, and just as difficult to feel any genuineness to their romance.
Jorge Paniagua, meanwhile, has a strong physical presence as The Stalker, but with only a few moments early on that give that character any sense of real menace.
So why go? What saves "The Bodyguard" is the music, a wave of the late Houston's hits -- songs from the film with added material from her catalog -- dynamically performed by Deborah Cox as Marron with occasional spotlights for Jasmin Richardson as her sister Nicki. Cox is solid enough to handle to material but savvy enough to not try to out-Whitney the originals, even on the climactic, and iconic, "I Will Always Love You." Her renditions of "I Have Nothing," "All The Man That I Need" and "One Moment In Time" more than hold their own against Houston's, while the "Run To You" duet with Richardson halfway through the first act is the show's first big show-stopper.
That ultimately makes "The Bodyguard" worth checking out -- satisfying as a concert, disappointing as a musical. The story is safe on the screen, but the songs carry the night.
If You Go: "The Bodyguard" runs through Jan. 28 at the Fisher Theater, 3011 W. Grand Blvd. Tickets are $39-$94. Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.
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