The Bodyguard Soars Higher than Whitney Houston’s High Notes at DPAC

The Bodyguard Soars Higher than Whitney Houston’s High Notes at DPAC

From the moment The Bodyguard opens the curtains until the spellbinding finale, the smash 2012 West End musical demanded attention from the sell-out crowd at the Durham Performing Arts Center on opening night, March 14th. With stunning music, a suspenseful plot line, and one of the most memorable romances in movie/theater musical history, the show has plenty to make it a hit; and the additional magical element that puts this show over the top is its stars.

Before we talk about the recognizable hit songs and the stars who sing them, let me give a shout-out to the people behind the scenes. Without Tim Hatley (set and costume design), Mark Henderson (lighting design), Richard Brooker (sound design), and the wonderful direction of Thea Sharrock, the show’s impact would be considerably lessened. There are few theater productions that use a stage as well or creatively as The Bodyguard.

The concert scenes make you believe you’re in a giant arena, yet there are small moments in the home of Rachel Marron (played by Deborah Cox) that are lit in a way that mimics sunlight coming through a window, and that type of finesse with both big and small lighting is an art in and of itself. Combine that skill with movable set pieces (the stage opens and closes from both sides, as well as extensions which stretch into the first few rows of the orchestra) that create incredible drama, and the story moves from simply a musical to a wide-ranging and impactful show.

Most know the huge talent of Whitney Houston, who starred in the movie version of The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner in 1992, and realize that singing the songs that she made famous takes a big voice and personality. Comparing the current stars of the production to the incomparable Houston is a natural inclination; but in this case, there is a positive outcome, because Deborah Cox is a force!

Cox, herself a Grammy® Award nominee who has a solid career in R&B, is every inch the star Houston was. Cox commands the stage as Rachel Marron, the superstar singer who balances being a mother and sister; and the best moments in the show are when she opens her mouth to sing. Whether rocking to “Queen of the Night” or “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” or crooning about heartbreak to “I Will Always Love You,” Cox’s voice is pitch perfect, soars to the highest of heights, and aches with intensity. Whenever she’s on stage, she’s a showstopper!

One of the subplots in this story circles around Rachel’s relationship with her sister, Nicki (Jasmin Richardson), herself a powerful singer, though more delicate than Cox. One of the most beautiful moments in the show occurs when the sisters compete for more than a moment in the spotlight (Nicki is the sister left behind when Rachel attains fame). “(I Want to) Run to You” is tender and pretty, showcasing Richardson’s vibrant lower registers; and the duet between the two women is a perfect blend of their strengths.

And, of course, the love story that propels this show has to be believable. Man, it was hot. At one point, the bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) and Rachel share a kiss that is so steamy, the people in the front rows needed handkerchiefs. No, seriously. The chemistry starts slow between Mills and Cox; but by the time they realize they’re in love, we have come to believe that the gruff, hardcore, wall-around-his-heart Frank Farmer has softened completely, because of his feelings for the independent woman with the huge career.

Mills, an actor with a solid career in the daytime soap As The World Turns and guest appearances in major TV shows such as The X-FilesDexter, and the new HBO hit Westworld, and movie credits in 20 feature films, proves he can command the stage (but can’t sing — and doesn’t need to!). His connection with Rachel’s young son Fletcher (the adorable and talented Douglas Baldeo, who alternates with Kevelin B. Jones III in the role) is endearing; and his compassion for Nicki, who never quite comes out of her sister’s shadow, is well-acted and believable. But his moment to shine comes when he can no longer control his passion for Rachel.

Even the secondary characters in this show are strong and powerfully acted. From the moment Rachel’s publicist, Sy Spector (Jonathan Hadley) snaps his first wisecrack, his stage moments command attention; and Tony Scibelli (Alex Corrado) is the quintessential security guard, drawn with a Goodfellas brush. But the one who impressed the most was Jorge Paniagua, who plays The Stalker so convincingly, it seemed he transformed on stage, looming larger and more menacing like a non-green version of The Hulk. Through use of shadows, video clips, and lighting, The Stalker sent chills through the audience and evoked a psychological threat-turned-violent.

There is no need for comparisons with the movie version. The Bodyguard stage musical is amazing! Deborah Cox, we will always love you! The show, which is part of DPAC‘s 2016-17 “Dream Big” SunTrust Broadway Series, will spin its magic through March 19th. Continue reading here

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