Durham, N.C. — If you love Whitney Houston music, you need to see the touring production of The Bodyguard, which is playing at Durham Performing Arts Center through Sunday.
If you haven't seen the film, "The Bodyguard" is the story of pop superstar Rachel Marron, who is being stalked by some crazy guy who leaves her creepy notes and steals her clothing. Her managers hire Frank Farmer, a professional bodyguard, to protect her and her son. They argue, they fall in love, etc.
The 1992 film and soundtrack were some of Houston's finest moments. Her remake of "I Will Always Love You" won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and her chemistry with Kevin Costner helped make the film a success.
The stage production has its bumps in trying to recreate the film and its plot, which has some holes and cheesy moments. Some of the recreations fell a little short for me (more on that below), but R&B singer Deborah Cox nailed the role of Rachel. I felt like I was at a "Deborah Cox sings Whitney Houston's greatest hits" concert. I wasn't sure whether to get up and dance during the show or stay seated and wait for the next bit of dialog. And when I say "bit," I mean bit. It's like the show got a list of Whitney Houston songs and just figured out ways to transition between them with as little actual dialog as possible.
Don't get me wrong, this is a fun show and I liked it, but the plot isn't the heart of the show. The music is what keeps you invested.
Cox is great. Jasmin Richardson, who plays Rachel's sister Nicki, is a revelation. There is a reason why she is Cox's understudy for the Rachel role. She can blow the roof off the place. Look for big things from her in the future.
Taking on the role of Frank is Judson Mills, who has appeared on "Walker Texas Ranger," "Dexter," "Westworld," "The Mentalist" and "Notorious." He and Cox have great chemistry when they are allowed to really act together, which isn't as much as I would have liked. Their strongest scene was at the karaoke bar. Their banter and natural chemistry really shined and Mills got to show off Frank's looser side at the microphone.
While Mills filled the role nicely, we need to talk about the elephant in the room - Frank Farmer is the worst bodyguard ever. He would have been fired if he was actually a real bodyguard. Every time something is happening, the dude is never there.
Fans of the film will note its lengthy running time and multiple location shots (including the scenes shot in the snow). The stage production has a faster timeline and also has the task of recreating some of the film's most iconic moments, like when Rachel plays a small club despite Frank's concerns over security and the risk that her stalker would be there. In the movie, this is the scene when Frank has to carry Rachel in his arms out of the club to safety. Very action packed, romantic, exciting. On stage, this scene did not translate well. They basically did a slow-motion version of it with the stalker guy appearing on the stage and then being awkwardly thrown off stage by Mills before he very strangely just picks up Cox in his arms. It seemed forced and the very dramatic music playing as the curtain went down to reveal their silhouette just left me wondering what had just happened and why.
The stalker, who is played by Jorge Paniagua, would just kind of show up at odd times on stage. It's like the writers wanted us to remember that he was still lurking around. A few times he was shirtless (not that I am complaining) for no reason at all. Whenever Frank would have a call with his FBI contact to discuss the case, you'd either see the stalker's image projected onto a screen above them or you'd actually see him on the side of the stage. We get it, he's a scary dude with a knife and he likes hoodies.
The most menacing moment was when the stalker shows off his Academy Awards credential and points a gun and its red scope light at the crowd. Not only was that terrifying, but in light of many theater shootings, it was a little too real for me.
Another forced slow motion scuffle during Rachel's Academy Awards' performance also left me confused and under-whelmed. Especially when the "safety curtain" came down (the curtain literally said that on it just in case we didn't know that is what it was).
I might sound critical of the show, but in the end I really liked it. The music was great, the dance numbers were fun and it reminded me why I love Houston's music and Deborah Cox. The finale, which features the entire cast dancing to "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," was a blast.
The Bodyguard runs through Sunday at DPAC. Richardson will take on the role of Rachel on Saturday and Sunday.