Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
Jasmin Richardson and Deborah Cox in THE BODYGUARD. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Review: THE BODYGUARD on tour at the Oriental Theatre
By Naima Dawson
I was skeptical about this production — Whitney Houston’s incomparable voice is near impossible to take on because it commands so much authority and energy. It is also no easy feat to replicate an iconic film into a Broadway musical that will produce a similar kinship of respect to its predecessor. THE BODYGUARD does not disappoint.
It’s no surprise that Deborah Cox — a pop icon in her own right — ignites the stage with her vocals. She delivers stellar renditions of timeless classics like “I’m Every Woman,” “Run to You,” and “I Will Always Love You.” Her poise and fluidity pay so much homage to the late great Whitney Houston.
Most know the movie, but if not you are in for a pleasant treat. Rachel Marron (Cox) is a big-time music icon who is taunted by a dangerous stalker (Jorge Paniagua). With her and her family’s life possibly in grave danger, Frank Framer (Judson Mills) is hired as her bodyguard. Tension begins to froth as Nicki Marron’s (Jasmin Richardson) jealousy of her sister’s fame threatens the family’s safety. Rachel, who is completely against having a bodyguard, slowly finds herself falling for Frank. Professional lines are crossed when Frank becomes more than a bodyguard, even developing a relationship with Rachel’s son Fletcher (Kevelin B. Jones III). Amid a budding romance and a scorching music career, Rachel is still faced with a stalker on the loose and a sister who is filled with envy.
This cast’s notable cohesion brings great strength to their performance. Judson Mills delivers all the passion and subtle moments familiar to the film. His humor and stage presence makes for a great pairing with Cox. He’s also quite easy on the eyes, ladies.
Jasmin Richardson exceeds expectations in her role as the jealous sister. Richardson has an incredible range that makes you want her singing never to stop. She’s captivating to listen to, and next to Cox holds her weight quite well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the adorable Kevelin B. Jones III, whose magnetic personality gleams through his acting. He is an amazing dancer, mastering every dance with the adults, but the greatest surprise is his vocals. No one expects such a little guy to handle every classic song he sings with such vocal strength and energy.
Director Thea Sharrock finds a way to adorn the stage with remnants from the original film alongside a few new moments. The combined efforts of Choreographer Karen Bruce, Lighting Designer Mark Henderson, Sound Designer Richard Brooker, and Video Designer Duncan McLean are evident in the strategic threading of great visuals and audio on stage.
Whitney Houston’s songs are timeless, primarily because they were constructed for her powerhouse voice. The musical staff — Production Musical Supervisor and Vocal Arranger Mike Dixon, Musical Supervisor Richard Beadle, and Orchestrator Chris Egan do a fine job crafting the music to compliment the vocal talent of each singer, without compromising the familiar classic sound.
The show has a slow start, but to be fair so does the film. Once it picks up the story takes off. THE BODYGUARD is an energetic and enjoyable musical that will have you clapping, dancing, and singing your favorite song from start to finish.
THE BODYGUARD plays through February 12th.