Thursday, March 16, 2017

Theatre: The Bodyguard The Musical

When a mediocre "B-movie" known more for its phenomenal soundtrack than its plot or acting is turned into a live musical, it is not surprising that the resultant stage show exhibits similar traits.  The Bodyguard Musical, which originated in London's West End follows a similar story-line to the 1992 Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston film with a few minor changes.  Former secret service agent Frank Farmer reluctantly agrees to become the personal bodyguard for superstar singing diva Rachel Marron, who is being harassed with threatening notes from an unknown stalker.  Following the typical romantic movie cliches, Frank and Rachel initially dislike each other but eventually fall in love, only to be torn apart by their different worlds and Frank's need to stay detached in order to effectively protect Rachel and her young son Fletcher.

As expected, the musical features stellar singing from the two female leads who play Rachel and her sister Nicki, doing justice to the slew of movie soundtrack songs such as "Run to You", "I Have Nothing", and the signature "I Will Always Love You", augmented with other Whitney Houston hits including "Saving All My Love For You" and "I Want to Dance With Somebody".  But for me, this was not a true musical but rather a melodrama interspersed with various characters singing Whitney Houston songs for a variety of reasons.  I much prefer the sung-through musical where all "dialogue" is sung as opposed to spoken, or at very least, a musical where songs are written specifically for the show and the lyrics advance the plot.

I felt very little chemistry between Frank and Rachel, making their sudden romance abrupt and unbelievable.  There seemed to be a stronger connection between Frank and Nicki, making me wonder for a moment whether the plot intended to stray completely from the movie.  That might actually have been interesting, but no such luck.  Even so, the excellent voices of the female stars would have made this musical sufficiently entertaining for me, had it not been for the extremely cheesy staging.  This included the use of strobe lighting, smoke and fog, and clumsy use of slo-motion with sound effects reminiscent of the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man.  The climatic scene in the first act where Frank rescues Rachel from a mob scene by sweeping her up in his arms was done in such a corny fashion that I actually gasped and then laughed out loud.  And the final climatic scene in the last act happened so quickly (even though the goofy slo-mo effect was used once again) that I almost missed it.  Each dramatic sequence seemed almost incidental other than being used as a bridge between another Whitney Houston song.  A final onscreen video showing flashback scenes from Frank and Rachel's "romance" felt cringe-inducingly awkward.  It was obviously added in order to allow the Rachel character enough time to make a costume change in preparation for her eleven O'Clock number "I Will Aways Love You", which she sang while covered with swirling fog(?!?)

If you are a big fan of Houston's music or The Bodyguard movie or just want to appreciate this show for the singing, then you may love it, as many people actually do.  For me, I prefer to watch a real musical with non-generic songs written so as to be integral to a good story.  I guess others agreed with me, since there were many empty seats on the night that we attended this show (which is part of our Mirvish subscription series).  In fact, a special "sing-a-long" event featuring the cast of The Bodyguard was hosted as a marketing promotion that gave away free tickets to the show for each attendee.  You don't see such gimmicks needed for Come From Away.

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