This past summer, when Broadway in Chicago staged its season preview concert in Millennium Park, Deborah Cox, the Canadian-bred, Grammy-nominated R&B star arrived on stage in a form-fitting gown and easily wowed the audience with her clarion voice. And it seemed like a musical based on the 1992 film, “The Bodyguard,” the hit romantic thriller that starred Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, might turn out to be an ideal fit for her talents.
When: Through .Feb. 12
Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph
Tickets: $19 – $85
Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes, with one intermission
The musical, based on the original Lawrence Kasdan screenplay — but outfitted with a somewhat re-imagined, no-cliche-left-untapped book by Alexander Dinelaris (who penned the screenplay for “Birdman”) — had already been produced in London, where Heather Headley had the misfortune to be playing the lead the same year Houston died. And the show went on to have productions throughout Europe and beyond. Now it is on a U.S. tour, in a stop at the Oriental Theatre, and to its marketers’ credit, it has been spared the “pre-Broadway” tagline. Let’s just say that the corpse we see on the stage during the musical is not half as lifeless as the show itself. Cox would have been far better off simply putting together a concert that paid homage to Houston, or to her own work as a songwriter.
At the center of the story is Rachel Marron (Cox), a pop superstar whose role in her first film has garnered her an Oscar nomination as well as a psycho stalker. Marron’s safety is in serious jeopardy from the start — from the moment a bomb of some sort goes off in her dressing room while she is performing her act, singing a sexy “Queen of the Night” dressed in a gilded corset and surrounded by semi-bondage-style backup dancers and blinding laser lights. Not surprisingly, she already has a security detail, but it is not on the level now required, and she is resistant to any change that would further leave her, and her 10-year-old son, Fletcher, feeling ever more cut off from a semblance of normal life.
Enter Frank Farmer (Judson Mills, who has a long list of TV and film credits, and is easy on the eyes). He is a former Secret Service guy with FBI contacts. And while he has no interest in dealing with what he describes as “show biz B.S.” — and while Rachel is anything but welcoming — he senses he is needed. It’s a hard sell, but he gets hired. And while dealing with Rachel’s animosity, he is temporarily attracted to her older, lonely sister, Nicki (Jasmin Richardson), who also sings, but has forever been overshadowed by her famous sibling.
Nicki will be displaced yet again, as Rachel and Frank become a couple — a pairing that Frank regrets as it interferes with his professional code.
Meanwhile, the danger of the shrewdly calculating Stalker (Jorge Paniagua), whose menace is amplified with the use of giant video images, looms in the wings. (In one of the more unfortunate choices in the story, he happens to be a crazed ex-soldier who still wears his dog tags.)
More should not be divulged here, aside from the fact that Thea Sharrock’s direction is full of dead spaces, Karen Bruce’s choreography is pedestrian and Tim Hatley’s paneled set often leaves the stage feeling like a blank slate between scenes.
Some of the familiar songs in the show’s jukebox score (“I’m Every Woman,” “All the Man That I Need,” “Greatest Love of All,” “One Moment in Time,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “So Emotional”) are used as the numbers in Rachel’s glitzy concerts and a single vibrant, love-fueled recording studio session, while others are used to express the emotions of the characters in real-life situations. Nicki sings a wistful “Saving All My Love” in a small club where Frank comes to hear her. And Rachel and little Fletcher (the spirited, confident Kevelin B. Jones III), pairs with his mom for “How Will I Know” and “Jesus Loves Me.” Of course everyone is waiting for “I Will Always Love You.”
Cox is a petite, leggy beauty and looks fabulous in every outfit, and she can sing up a storm. But the wooden script offers little by which to judge her acting chops. Richardson’s Nicki also looks great in clothes, and channels the requisite jealousy and pain. The rest of the actors play stock characters.
In the wake of Rachel’s success, her publicist quips about all the possible new musicals she is being asked to star in. There are big laughs all around when one possibility is an adaptation of “Dances with Wolves.” Couldn’t be any worse than “The Bodyguard.”