If you wish you had the chance to see Whitney in concert, ‘The Bodyguard’ at Hartford’s The Bushnell is the next best thing.
The show opened with a bang. Conversations abruptly halted Tuesday night as the story immediately sucked the audience in with a sudden startling, glass-shattering gunshot.
That’s just one way “The Bodyguard” was unique. It was a comical, talent-filled musical treading on suspense thriller. And thrill it did. From show-stopping pop numbers to a riveting whodunit plot of a former secret service agent hired to protect a singer targeted with death threats, ‘The Bodyguard’ captivated me the entire time.
Every time Deborah Cox performed as sassy pop star Rachel Marron, the role played by Whitney Houston in the movie by the same name, it felt like we were at a Beyoncé concert. The flashing lights were almost too blinding, but the pyrotechnics, invigorating choreography, spinning and elevating platforms, sparkling costumes, and glitter cannons infused the flashy production with stunning intrigue.
While Cox was pitchy at times in her higher register, it was clear why she was cast in the role. Her powerhouse belting replicated the sound of Whitney extraordinarily. Her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” – which started off-stage sounding similar to the famous version of the Dolly Parton song Whitney recorded for the movie – received a standing ovation before she finished or the curtain call started. Her encore of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” got the audience up and dancing.
Jasmin Richardson was the vocal standout as Rachel’s sister Nicki. She had impressive command over her voice when she sang softly and had youthful vigor in her silky sound that added unique character. With the emotion she poured into her song in the nightclub, you can see why her character might be jealous of her sister’s stardom when she is also very talented.
Judson Mills didn’t have the authenticity and sincerity Kevin Costner did in the role of bodyguard Frank Farmer, but his serious demeanor and dry humor played very well off of Cox and clashing characters like the flamboyant, driven music producer Sy (Jonathan Hadley).
Kevelin B. Jones III was like a little Michael Jackson as a spirited and talented singer and dancer, playing Rachel’s son Fletcher. He was adorably mature as the only child character.
The ensemble members were every bit as present as the leads in making the show dynamic. Many had featured moments that popped from backup dancers doing flips and flips to three inebriated college girls delivering an impassioned and hysterically accurate depiction of karaoke night. It takes a lot to sing badly on purpose while hitting the comedic timing. That was something Mills excelled at in his karaoke take on “I Will Always Love You,” the song about somebody leaving somebody.
Lyrics projected over the set created the true ambience of a karaoke bar. It was one of many elements of projection and video technology that really modernized the stage version of this story. Video flashbacks during “I Will Always Love You” and realistic 3D animated graphics of “the stalker” (Jorge Paniagua) composing death threats and lurking in Rachel’s footsteps heightened the intensity of the onstage action.
I couldn’t help but tense up when he appeared in the audience during the Oscars scene, panning the crowd with the prop gun he would use for an attempted assassination. That breakage of the fourth wall awakened fears about real-life tragedies with shooters at entertainment events.
The audience was so into the storyline that they booed Paniagua in the curtain call. But he redeemed himself in the encore number singing to Cox’s Rachel to much applause. It was a moment of understanding and support between the audience and the actor and showed he could have a sense of humor.
As always “I Will Always Love You,” a song about love that endures even when a romantic chapter, drew a lot of emotions and tears from this reviewer.
Because it’s always sad when somebody leaves somebody. But it’s beautiful when the love remains through the pain in the memories of having danced with somebody at all.
“The Bodyguard” runs through Sunday, Feb. 25 at The Bushnell at 166 Capitol Ave. in Hartford. More information on purchasing tickets is available at www.bushnell.org.