Deborah Cox is a Grammy Award nominee and R&B powerhouse, and a distinguished national touring artist. To put it simply: She’s a pretty big deal. Unfortunately, she’s also a human who gets sick (or at least that’s what the woman seated next to me heard), and wasn’t able to perform during opening night of The Bodyguard: The Musical at Wharton Center in Lansing. Cue the understudy, Jasmin Richardson.
Before I get to Richardson’s performance, here’s some quick logistics about cast changes on opening night: Since Richardson filled in for Cox as the show’s lead, Rachel Marron, then DeQuina Moore — who is another of Cox’s understudies — moved into Richardson’s role (Rachel’s sister, Nicki), while Lauren Tanner was moved up to play Moore’s ensemble roles.
The Bodyguard: The Musical is based on the 1992 film with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, and is filled with Houston hits. All the greats are there, from “I Will Always Love You” to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”
The plot of the musical basically boils down to this: Rachel is a mega-superstar singer who suddenly finds herself with a stalker (Jorge Paniagua, who is creeptastic). Cue her staff insisting she hire a bodyguard — Secret Service agent-turned-bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills) — to protect her and her son, Fletcher (played opening night by Flint native Kevelin B. Jones III). Said bodyguard then protects Rachel until they find the stalker … and that’s about the gist of it. There’s some side stuff about a very brief love triangle, but honestly, it’s not worth getting into.
Once you do a little research on the film though, it's easy to see why Alexander Dinelaris wanted to write this. The movie made $411 million worldwide, and the soundtrack became the best-selling soundtrack of all time, selling more than 45 million copies worldwide. But if you’re going to put “musical” in the title, maybe adjust the script so the lead male character sings too. Go ahead, give him a ballad or two.
While the plot is thin, there are some really excellent elements to the musical. There’s the top-notch, and very toned, ensemble who dance to Karen Bruce’s choreography through popular Houston songs like “I’m Every Woman” and “How Will I Know.” There’s also video designer Duncan McLean’s work, which adds another element to the stage design. Another fine element is Mills’ Frank — he’s charismatic, with hints of tough guy attitude mixed with a softer side, especially in scenes with Jones.
And then there’s the songs — one of the show’s biggest draws — sung primarily by Richardson and Moore during opening night.
Richardson does most of the heavy lifting as Rachel, and during the closing number of Act I, "I Have Nothing,” she sings the rooftop off that place. During that song, she is phenomenal. But with many of the show’s other songs, that gusto just wasn’t there. Her singing did improve from the beginning of Act I to the end, and she did some excellent vocal work in Act II, but one would hope for an understudy of the lead to be top-notch from beginning to end.
Again, Richardson has a lovely voice — and does some of the show’s best dramatic acting, especially during a pivotal scene in Act II — and while her singing did improve throughout the show, after Moore’s rendition of “Saving All My Love" in Act I, it didn’t matter how much she improved, the audience was putty in Moore’s hands.
The minute Moore started to sing that song, there was a literal murmur among the people seated near me, commenting on how great she sounded. It earned her the biggest ovation up until that point in the show, and you could sense people’s excitement every time they got to hear her sing again. With her range and depth, and this added X-factor she seemed to ooze, it’s easy to see how she too is an understudy for Rachel. While Richardson had the bigger role of the evening, Moore’s voice is the one that people will remember and tell their friends about.
There was a woman seated a few rows ahead of me who I caught singing along to almost every single song. She, clearly, was a giant Whitney fan, as were many of the people around me, and she didn’t seem to care about the thin plot or who was singing, she primarily wanted to jam along to songs she absolutely loved. And if that’s the reason you go — which is a great one — this is a super fun show. Or, if you’re one of the millions who just love the 1992 film, you’ll be pleased. But if you’re looking for something with a little more meat behind it, your night might be better spent just listening to Whitney’s greatest hits at home.
750 E. Shaw Ln, East Lansing
Oct. 17-22, $43+