“The Bodyguard” was one of 1992’s most commercially popular films, featuring the iconic image of Kevin Costner carrying Whitney Houston in his arms. Like the movie’s plot, the musical, which debuted on the West End only 10 months after the tragedy of Houston’s untimely passing, is anchored by a love story between a chart-topping singer and Oscar nominee, Rachel Marron, and her hired protector, Frank Farmer, with the looming threat of a mysterious stalker in the background. The only few differences in Alexander Dinelaris’ book, as opposed to Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay, is that it’s present day (with references to social media) and the point of view is now told more so from Rachel’s side of things rather than Frank’s.
Despite the musical not always being well-received by some critics — similar to the film — the Candlelight Pavilion has successfully tried its hand with a production that is now playing through September 28th. This version, in comparison, is tautly directed and paced by John LaLonde, which allows the edge-of-your seat story and dynamic music, highlighted by Houston’s greatest hits, to breathe and flow naturally, with increasing momentum that favorably and thrillingly accumulates until the final bows. And rather than only being an homage to the legacy of Houston, the Candlelight Pavilion’s show benefits from elite talent that simply yields a rip-roaring and vibrant time for anyone looking to have some great fun.
Certainly, nobody can dispute that the singing and dancing in “The Bodyguard” are top-rate, assisted by the musical direction of Kevin Gasio as well as the modern-dance choreography of John Vaughan, which sees the talented ensemble spin, flip, and turn with fierce gusto. Additionally, the set by Chuck Ketter is just perfect – inclusive of a grid design bordered by neon lights and a digital screen up top. Not to mention, Mark Gamez and Merrill Grady’s costumes are some of the most sparkling and eye-catching pieces you’ll ever see on stage (especially Rachel’s dresses), Michon Gruber-Gonzales’ wigs are imperceptible from the real thing, and Bo Tindell’s lighting design underscores both the effervescent, pop grandeur of the musical along with its tenser, gun-cocking moments.
Leading the charge of this romantic story are Daebreon Poiema as Rachel and Brent Schindele as Frank, who are electrifying as the couple who share an improbable love. Rachel is one of the most famous individuals on the planet, and the rugged Frank is comparatively ordinary, until the superstar gets him to open up about his guarded past. It should be noted that Poiema and Schindele are effortless together when they’re sharing a quick-witted repartee or having a more serious conversation. The audience can certainly sense Frank’s dilemma about making a professional assignment so personal, which is bolstered by Schindele’s nuanced acting, and yet we’re hoping that his romance with Poiema’s Rachel still works out because they’re such an adorable pairing.
And while Schindele memorably croons Dolly Parton’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” this production is meant to spotlight the transcendent vocal talent and presence of Poiema, who rises out of Houston’s weighty shadow. Poiema doesn’t just draw comparisons to the fallen idol with the strength and clarity of her full-bodied voice, but goes even further by flourishing so much that she makes this performance her very own. In other words, Poiema owns hits like “How Will I Know, “Greatest Love of All,” “I Have Nothing,” “I’m Every Woman,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” and particularly the famous anthem of “I Will Always Love You” so well that images of Houston are no longer conjured up and we just see Poiema as her own person commanding the stage with her alluring confidence.
As Nicki Marron (Rachel’s sister), who also develops a liking to Frank, Deanna Anthony likewise impresses mightily with her superb belt and ability to sing either powerfully or with a pleasant softness. The pure passion that Anthony exhibits in songs like “Saving All My Love for You” “All at Once,” and in her duet (with Poiema) of “Run to You,” absolutely proves that she is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, an argument can be made that Anthony and Poiema make for the most dominant vocal one-two punch seen on the Candlelight Pavilion stage in recent memory, and their combined musical vitality and stylings are alone worth the price of admission.
There are even more incentives provided by a supporting cast to see “The Bodyguard,” though. These include Amari Figueras’ genuine depiction as Rachel’s son, Fletcher, who develops a heartwarming camaraderie with Schindele’s Farmer; Jim Skousen, a Candlelight Pavilion staple, who is really funny as Rachel’s idiosyncratic publicist, Sy Spector; Ron Hastings, who plays Bill Devaney, the concerned manager, effectively; Mike Truelock, who is both Rachel’s carefree head of security, Tony, accentuated by a very 90’s fashion sense, and Frank’s resolved colleague, Ray Court; and finally Chris Coon, who is impeccably creepy and awkward as the cryptic Stalker determined to tear apart Rachel’s life. Of course, there are also the male and female ensemble members who are magnificent at keeping this musical at a continually energetic and gratifying level.
All in all, the Candlelight Pavilion’s production of “The Bodyguard” defies all expectations by being a huge late-summer surprise and one that will have attendees smiling from ear to ear as they enjoy the nostalgia of Whitney Houston’s discography, brought to life by performers who are endearing and so vocally gifted. Needless to say, the show becomes more than just a tribute, as it stands tall and shimmers on its own merits, outshining even the film.
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