The legacy and superstardom of Whitney Houston endures, judging from the bobbing heads and impromptu singalongs at Toby’s Dinner Theatre’s production of The Bodyguard.
Based on the 1992 film starring Houston and Kevin Costner and a perennial guilty pleasure of many a romance movie buff, The Bodyguard has been made into a rather plodding jukebox musical featuring the singer’s greatest hits.
One guesses being so caught up in the steamy chemistry between Houston and Costner and the escapist and starpower fantasy of the musical numbers—not to mention the clothes, what dreamy ‘90s fashion!—led to not being too critical of the movie’s overall heaping dose of schmaltz and plot holes you could run a tour bus through.
All of these flaws become painfully evident in the musical version. Toby’s valiantly tries to overcome the stiffness of the show’s plot, which amounts to people milling around and uttering a few lines of predictable dialogue before launching into the next Whitney Houston smash, leading you to wonder why you never noticed the contrivance of the movie so acutely before.
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The cast injects some much-needed sparkle into the musical numbers, especially Ashley Johnson-Moore, playing the Houston character, superstar singer Rachel Marron. She’s got the pipes that evoke the late singer without it being a too-faithful impersonation. Johnson-Moore also has a warm presence that draws you in, as does Samantha McEwen Deininger (an excellent vocalist in her own right), playing Rachel’s dangerously jealous sister Nicki.
Johnson-Moore rolls through Houston’s hits with poise and flair, although someone should have told her never to come out on stage shouting because where do you go from there, as seen in opening number “Queen of the Night.” She ably handles such chart busters as “How Will I Know?,” “The Greatest Love of All,” “Saving All My Love for You,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “I’m Every Woman” and more, including the sob-inducing torch song of the ages, “I Will Always Love You.”
But for the love of God, I couldn’t understand why Rachel, a mega-wealthy pop star living in a mansion, and her sister-manager, were wearing wrinkled, oversized schmattas that begged for an iron. Not to mention sneaker-style shoes designed more for bunions than style.
They both looked like they tumbled out of a lost and found box in a cloakroom, bivouacked as they were in lumpy wool sweaters, mismatched scarves and grandma cardigans. Which is a real shame, since both women are lookers. Johnson-Moore is briefly elevated by a gorgeous, form-fitting golden gown for the Oscars scene, before being decked out in a bumpy fringed frock for the encore that would do no favors even for the likes of J-Lo. Curvy women can be dressed beautifully just like anyone else and they deserve it.
The rest of the cast doesn’t do much better, wearing schlocky interpretations of ‘90s fashion trends, and doing strained MTV music video-style choreography. And you mull over the decision to have The Stalker (a creepy Justin Calhoun), Rachel’s sociopathic greatest fan, skulk and menace throughout the show, only to throw off his serial killer hoodie and smile, bop and dance during the encore. Maybe something in character would have been appropriate.
The Bodyguard closes November 3, 2019. Details and tickets
It seems a shame to not have Russell Sunday sing in a show, and he is the biggest sport in town for his intentionally bad singing of “I’ll Always Love You” in a karaoke bar. He acquits himself well in the Costner role of bodyguard Frank Farmer, stoic and sensitive at the same time.
There’s an abundance of talent onstage in The Bodyguard. If only the vehicle were up to the caliber of the performers and their willingness to entertain.
The Bodyguard—The Musical, featuring the greatest hits of Whitney Houston, Based on the Warner Bros. film . Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Book by Alexander Dinelaris , Directors: Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick. Choreopgrapher: Shalyce Hemby. Musical Director: Ross Scott Rawlings. Scenic/Lighting Designer: Davis A. Hopkins. Sound Designer: Mark Smedley. Costume Designer: Janine Sunday. Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.