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The Bodyguard, The Musical begins with a bang!  Literally, the unexpected sound of gunshots combined with great strobe lighting effects made me (along with most of the audience) scream with delight and jump out of our seats!

 

I enjoyed this show from beginning to end with a strong starring lead in Deborah Cox and a very strong supporting cast of actors and dancers. I am a fan, though not a cult fan, of the 1992 movie The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. Although I wasn't a Whitney Houston music fan per say, I have admired her amazing and formidable vocal talent as much as anyone else who has ever heard her sing. 

 

If you haven’t seen the movie from which this musical is based, it is the story of a successful music icon (Rachel Marron) who receives a string of death threats from an obsessed fan leading to the hiring of a bodyguard, Frank Farmer, who is taken on by the singer and her staff with a reluctant acquiescence at first. Frank comes with some baggage, but the former secret service man is good at what he does – very good. Frank quickly takes over security detail for the star and her ten-year-old son Fletcher. As the story progresses, the threats become more and more bizarre, the danger ever-increasing.  

 

I agree with the choice not to write any songs for Kevin Costner's character, played with super cool Costner-esque aloofness by Judson Mills, probably because it was just too hard to try to create any material for him that could compare with the huge and much beloved hits Whitney produced on the soundtrack for the film like “Greatest Love of All”, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, “Run to You”, “Saving All My Love”, and “One Moment in Time”. 

 

Ironically, since that time Kevin Costner has become a professional singer/musician with his band Kevin Costner and Modern West, and although his band has played to audiences both large and small around the world - this is a fact many might not know. 

 

Yes, Judson seemed a little stiff in the role but I feel like he did his best to project a strong silent sexy type written for the subtlety of film then translated to a very large theater stage. There were a lot of pregnant pauses in his speech, but I think the writers could have added more humor and dialogue to his role as Frank Farmer to even out the fact that it is a musical in which he is the lead and does not get to sing. There was one really good laugh - not sure of it was intentional - but as we see Rachel slip out of the bed after her first night with Frank and he lays there still asleep, she immediately begins singing these lines from Whitney’s hit “All the Man That I Need”: 

 

“He fills me up 

He gives me love 

More love than I've ever seen 

He's all I've got” 

 

Rachel Marron played by Deborah Cox was absolutely spot on with the Whitney Houston songs thanks to her incredible voice. I really could have listened to her and Jasmin Richardson who played Rachel's little sister Nikki Marron sing Houston's hit all night, as they are both such amazing vocalists. Douglas Baldeo also does an incredible job as Rachel’s son, Fletcher. Baldeo has an amazing future ahead of him, the child actor displaying boundless vocal range and dancing his way into the hearts of theatre goers. One of the play's most touching moments centered around a beautiful rendition of "Jesus Loves Me" performed by Cox, Richardson and Baldeo when Farmer hid the family at his father's cabin in the country.

 

It was a fun and entertaining idea to use the film as the basis for this musical. The whole point of Frank Farmer's entrance and brief love affair in the movie was to teach Rachel that she is undervaluing her own well-being and safety by refusing to let a bodyguard change her way of life.

 

Frank Farmer is the sexy, masculine protective glass picture frame through which we get to admire, to actually magnify Rachel’s great beauty and talent. It is realized just how important protection is needed of a woman so gifted to her family and to the public - her adoring fans. 

 

Kevin Costner fought to get Houston cast in the role at a time when an interracial relationship was a much more risqué subject. Thanks to his persistence we have the classic that exists today and its current stage version.

 

Every time I heard Deborah Cox' wonderful voice ring out with Houston's trademark magnificence, I wished the real Whitney Houston had found a "bodyguard" to watch over her own short life. It is a tragic spin that a strong, down to earth man like Frank Farmer may have protected her and kept her from the fast track of drugs and non-stop pressure to produce hits. Whitney Houston might still be with us today.

 

Highly recommended as a fun date show and must see for any Whitney Houston fans. The Bodyguard is being performed at Oriental Theatre through February 12th. For more information on this exciting show, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Friday, 26 February 2016 14:18

If/Then: Will Leave You Asking "What If...?"

If/Then is a contemporary musical that deals with the challenging question of “What if…?”. Through powerful singing and dynamic staging, it tells us two parallel stories of Elizabeth, a divorcee moving back to New York City after many years away. One day, in Madison Square Park, she has to make a decision – go to a show with a new friend, or to a protest with an old friend. From there, the musical takes us through both story lines, swapping back and forth with quick costume changes and the spin of a set. The two story lines are distinguished in part by Elizabeth adopting the nickname Liz and glasses, or Beth and contacts but as each story takes off in its own direction, you need to pay attention to avoid getting mixed up.

 

Just as If/Then takes us through two side by side stories, there are two varied perspectives on the show overall. On one hand, the show tells a unique story, is cast with incredible singers who bring heart to the music and it challenges you to really think about how much weight we put on that question of “what if…”. On the other hand, it lacks story development and never establishes a connection with the audience to really care about any of the characters, even Elizabeth as she tackles the age old problem of “can women really have a career and a family”.

 

The show oozes the New York superiority complex and the sets and costumes ensure that you do not forget that fact. The set design is made up of movable industrial pieces that could be rearranged to move us from the park, to the subway, to offices and apartments. Maps of NYC were projected on the back screen helping to transport us around the city as we follow Liz/Beth on their adventures. Costumes were simple, capturing day to day looks of people of the big apple and fitting in perfectly with the look and feel of the show. The choreography varied between structured and intentional movement around the stage which worked well to breathy, modern moves that felt overly choreographed and out of place.

 

What carries this show along with the polished set design and costumes is the singing. Jackie Burns as Elizabeth sung her heart out. Beyond her, the entire cast were all phenomenal singers including Tamyra Gray as Kate, Matthew Hydzik as Josh and Janine DiVita as Anne. There were multiple times during the show that their voices saved emotionally flat scenes.  

 

Initially this show has everything on the surface that one might expect to get out of a Broadway musical and the execution of the production was flawless however, all of these qualities of the show lie on the surface with nothing beneath it. Outstanding vocals and set design will only go so far when both the story and characters are lacking any kind of true depth. 

 

If/Then is playing at the Oriental Theatre through March 6th. Concerned about what you are missing if you don’t go? Buy your tickets here. Choose not to go? Then it won’t change anything for the worse and you likely won’t be asking yourself, “What if?”

Published in Theatre Reviews

Oriental Theatre - From the opening of the show when Chicago actor Ed Kross comes out and explains in a perfect 50’s TV announcer voice that we are all at a live taping of the Lucy Show back in 1952, I was captivated.

Two real episodes of the show were purchased for this production, “The Benefit” and “Lucy has her eyes examined.”  I thought both episodes were perfectly chosen not just for their comedic effect but because they showed clearly how far ahead of her time Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz were by creating the three camera filming process and Lucy being the first female studio owner, way, way ahead of their time!  I adored the bright, honest yet sardonic tone of the antics of the ensemble who lovingly recreated the between scene period TV commercials for classic products Brylcreem and Alka Seltzer.  Rick Sparks staging is spot on and is very fun and exciting to watch as the entire cast and crew move seamlessly from introducing the show to setting off the applause sign for us , the live studio audience. It really felt like we were transported back in time to 1950s Los Angeles and were waiting breathlessly to see these two huge iconic stars in the flesh for the first time.

Lori Hammel as Ethel and Kevin Remington as Fred Mertz were very funny, very well cast and true to their characters. It is interesting to note that the real Vivian Vance playing Ethel originally objected to the 20 year plus age difference between her and her TV husband Fred! I always wondered why her husband was so much older and less attractive than the handsome couple they were best friends with but that was pretty typical for the time period.

Thea Brooks did a fantastic job playing the most difficult role in this show. Brooks really captured the absolutely brilliant physical comedy and genuine dancers grace with which Lucille Ball (originally a Broadway quality dancer) was able to bestow upon female comedy timing in a world which had yet to enter fully in the women’s movement at all.

The  wonderful, best friends forever interaction between Lucy and Ethel reminded us that Lucy was also ahead of her time not only by marrying interracially, but Lucille Ball  was also the first champion of long lasting, devoted, female friendship, now referred to as “chicks before dicks!” at a time when both issues were severely frowned upon and questioned by society.

Euriamis Losada as Ricky blew audiences away with his eerily accurate portrayal of Ricky Ricardo’s movements and voice! Every single line of comedy and each line of his musical numbers were so like the original I occasionally squinted my eyes and felt I could see Lucy and Desi standing on the stage.  These two performances were so difficult and required much attention to detail by Brooks and Losada, yet they pulled it off without bordering on caricature or parody regarding these two beloved superstars. Thea Brooks and Euriamis Losada displayed real STAR turns in this production and I can’t wait to see their future incarnations on Broadway in other productions.

I only have two notes for this delightful and thoroughly enjoyable production. It would have been nice if instead of the “game show break” utilizing an audience member and plant in the audience which separated the two episodes, Sparks had just allowed us, the studio audience, to take a ten minute intermission. Also, I would have loved to see a single behind the scenes scene between Lucy and Ricky AS Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, to peer into that break from the fantasy of the show to the reality of their rocky but ground breaking marriage. It would have been very special to witness indeed and have allowed Losada and Brooks to peel back and show yet another layer of these two magnificently complicated performers in their own time period.

I highly recommend seeing I Love Lucy Live on Stage at the Oriental Theatre with your whole family to bring back the love and simplicity and also the hysterical hypocrisy of the time period that many of us grew up watching and loving. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

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