Monday, January 30, 2017

Reflections about..."The Bodyguard" at Paper Mill Playhouse Friday December 23, 2016 at 1:30 PM

I've been practically either sick or busy all month, so I haven't been able to devote more of my time to this blog, but I am finally delivering this post!

The Bodyguard was a 1992 movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner about a pop singer who has a stalker, so her manager hires a bodyguard to protect her.

Now this story comes to audiences live in a stage production...but not quite. I say not quite because I read the synopsis of the movie on Wikipedia and it doesn't really match up. It has some similarities, but the musical adaptation is a total retelling and liberties are taken.

Written by Alexander Dinelaris, the show has played in London, Australia, Germany, Korea, and Toronto, all with different casts. Now it kicked off its U.S. debut and tour at Paper Mill Playhouse, starring Grammy Award winner Deborah Cox as Houston's character Rachel Marron and Judson Mills as Costner's character Frank Farmer. It premiered on November 25 and played until January 1.

Going into it, I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew about this story is that it was based on a movie starring Whitney Houston who sings "I Will Always Love You" at the end. I didn't know how well this would translate to a stage musical, so I was interested in seeing how it is done.

From now on I might be providing some spoilers because I need to discuss certain plot points, so as usual BE AWARE OF SPOILERS!

What I Didn't Like:

Basically the stuff I didn't like were also the things I did like. They were more so components that I questioned more than anything. Let me explain myself.

The Opening

Believe it or not, the first second of the musical involves a spoiler. Like, it's so cool to not expect when you're there that I don't even want to tell you what it is. But I have to.

The show starts off with a bang. Literally.

My mother and I arrived at the theater mere minutes before the show was about to start. They were still seating people. As the usher lead us to our seat, she was rather frazzled. She was legitimately rushing us to our seats and kept saying "It starts off with a bang and then goes black." I was like "Whaaa?" So basically it doesn't start with the standard voiceover that tells you to silence your phones, shows you where the exits are, and says to enjoy the show and then the gradual blackout. Nobody knows when it's going to happen.

So my mom and I do manage to get to our seats with like seconds to spare. The people behind us told us that we made it right on time. As we interacted with them...BANG! Then BLACKOUT! All of a sudden on the stage there is a man who has been shot lying on the ground, another man pointing the gun at him, and another man clutching onto the gun holder's leg. They all exchange some lines, and then another BANG! Then BLACKOUT! Suddenly there is a video introducing Rachel Marron, our superstar. Another blackout, and then there is Deborah Cox standing on a platform. She sings "Queen of the Night" with her backup dancers. It's a pretty loud, blasting, exciting performance. During this scene we also find out that someone has snuck into her dressing room and left a note written with magazine letters. Then we go to the next scene where we meet Judson Mills as Frank Farmer as her manager hires him to protect Rachel and her son, and the story proceeds from there.

Between myself being startled (regardless of the fact that I was warned) and getting settled into my seat, I lost the significance of this scene. I thought they would eventually revisit it, but they never do. Unless I just missed something, I have no idea how these opening seconds tie into the rest of the plot. Is this scene supposed to represent Frank's past? Later on he mentions that a senator he was supposed to protect was killed because he wasn't there. He was on a plane traveling to see his dying mother. That's the only thing I can think of.

Seriously, this is bothering me. lol

It was bothering me so much that I had to do some research and here is what I found out. I came across some information that describes the gun Farmer uses in the 1992 film in the opening scene, which is equivalent to the opening scene in the musical. It turns out that this was an introduction to Frank's background in the Secret Service. Farmer is the one with the gun, the Assassin is the one on the ground shot, and clinging to Farmer is a guy appropriately named Klingman.

The only thing is, unfortunately I can't remember what the lines are because it took me off guard. Or should I say, off BODYguard? :P

Okay. Lame joke.

Quite a stimulating opening to a musical. It was certainly a memorable one.

Music and Storyline...Together

Let me address my biggest problem with this musical. Now, I don't want you, the reader, assuming that I didn't like it because of my following criticism. I'm happy that the musical exists because it is enjoyable, but I am questioning the demand for it. I'm just wondering why this needed to be made in the first place. Why did people look at the film and think, "This should be adapted into a staged musical?"

The whole musical seemed more like a tribute to Whitney Houston's music, a two hour long music video as opposed to a musical with a coherent story or rather a storyline helped along with musical guides. Granted, the story was there, but it was more of a Deborah Cox concert than anything. Cox could have very well went on a national concert tour just to sing Whitney Houston songs and it would have been the exact same thing. However, you know, the storyline does add more elements and depth to it to set it apart from a concert.

It's like they wanted to make a musical using Whitney Houston's hits and then decided to adapt The Bodyguard simply because she starred in that movie. I mean, I guess it would be random to write a whole new plot just to showcase Houston's music if they already had The Bodyguard at their disposal.

It's as if they decided to throw in a Whitney Houston song where they deemed appropriate. For example, in one scene Rachel sings a song called "Greatest Love of All", which she relates to her 10-year-old son Fletcher...technically. It's in there simply because it opens with the line:
I believe the children are our future.
Rachel has a son. We recently met the kid and he was in one of the previous scenes befriending Frank while Rachel was asking for him, so therefore this was the best opportunity to include this song.

That's what the whole musical felt like to me, picking and choosing which scene would pair best with which song rather than let the songs tell the story, which is what they are normally used for in musicals. This song is supposed to establish their mother/son relationship, but throughout the rest of the musical it is somewhat rare to see them interact. Although they do show each other affection and Rachel displays genuine concern for her son, Fletcher seems to have more character relationship development scenes with Frank than anyone.

Most of the musical numbers in this are Rachel performing for an audience or rehearsing to do so. There are songs sprinkled throughout of her and Nicki, Rachel's sister played by Jasmin Richardson, singing about Frank and their feelings for him, but these scenes feel like the writers said, "Okay, what song could work in this situation?" or "Let's create this scene so she could sing this song." The scenes don't really tie into anything. They are usually just standalone moments of Cox or Richardson standing or sitting there and singing, and then the story continues from there in the next scene. In fact, the finale of Rachel singing "I Will Always Love You" is practically the only song in this that helps tell the story because it communicates her emotions about losing Frank, which is a majorly significant part in The Bodyguard.

But then again, maybe this is just how it is with jukebox musicals, which are musicals that use previously released songs as its score. In other words, the lyrics aren't original for the piece. Maybe this is all just something that has to be done because that is the only material they have to work with, which further makes me question a bit if it was necessary to make a live stage musical adaptation of the movie.

I never saw the movie, so maybe this all happens in that too?

Here's something interesting. None of the men in the cast sing. There are male ensemble members, but they are there as backup dancers. Well, Frank has a solo, but it's hardly one because it's a karaoke number and he doesn't sing it but rather talks it, and you can tell that the character, and perhaps Mills himself, isn't accustomed to musical numbers. And he shouldn't be. He's this tough guy, strict, no nonsense bodyguard.

Cox, Richardson, and the female ensemble members are the only voices we really hear, which further emphasizes that this is more of a nod to Houston's work as opposed to musicality used as a storytelling device. If this was a true musical, because Frank is a main character, he would most likely at least have a self-reflection number. But, that would probably take away from the show's (and movie's) theme to showcase Houston's work with female voices.

But then there's that curtain call...I won't spoil that one for ya. ;)


Fletcher, as I have just said, is Rachel's son who develops a father/son relationship with Frank. He is played by one of two young lads, Douglas Baldeo and Kevelin B. Jones III. Jones played Fletcher at my show. The kid is enthusiastic and a fantastic singer. In fact, he's the only male cast member that utters minor lyrics in the body of the show.

Fletcher actually has a scene with Rachel's Stalker and it is like the one time audiences see the guy speaking onstage. We learn that he is a ranger and in the military, which might make him harder for Frank and his associates to track and nail.

When Rachel and Frank can't romantically be together and things get awkward between them, Frank leaves the job and the Stalker takes his place. He asks Fletcher where his mother's bedroom is and Fletcher takes him. The next time we see the Stalker, he tucks in Fletcher's bed. Rachel's sister Nicki, goes in to check on Fletcher, only to discover that the blanket covers pillows instead and that Fletcher is missing. The next scene is Rachel of course screaming about what happened to her son. Fletcher at this point was found, in recovery, and the Stalker is on the run.

So...did the Stalker kidnap Fletcher? For me, this part wasn't necessarily articulated correctly. It isn't fully explained nor does Fletcher come across visibly traumatized by the experience in following scenes, so I to this day still question what happened. It's probably something I just missed, but I felt the need to include it in this piece.

It is a turning point in the plot, however. After this occurs, it is clear that the Stalker is more of a threat now since he has now been in Rachel's home, so Frank takes Rachel, Fletcher, and Nicki to hide out in his father's cabin.

What I Did Like

The Opening

The opening may have confused me a bit, but that was the only reason why I disliked it. In the moment it was definitely a cool effect. It's a unique, darkish opening as opposed to the happy-go-lucky large ensemble numbers that usually open up musicals.

Music and Storyline...Together

Hey...both the music, singing, and storyline is incredibly done, don't get me wrong. Regardless of how I feel about the music and storyline going together, it's still entertaining, and that's what matters. I love Cox's powerful vocals. I even told her myself. :)

I've always enjoyed Whitney Houston's music. She's a Jersey Girl like myself, and her "Greatest Hits" CD that came out in 2000, for which she collaborated with Deborah Cox, was actually the first CD I had ever bought for myself.

The Stalker

Is it bad that I find The Stalker in this extremely hot? Is it also bad that when he came into the lobby with other performers I was too shy to go talk to him because he was talking to a cast member's family and taking pictures and I didn't want to disturb them?

I'm still salty that I didn't say anything. :P

Anyway, Rachel's stalker is played by Costa Rican actor Jorge Paniagua and he is quite possibly the best part of this whole musical.

Not because he's hot! That's only part of the reason. ;)

He has very few lines, some of them voiceovers (which might be a recording from prior versions of the show, so therefore maybe not him), and we never see the story from his point of view, but he is still so menacing. Many of his scenes only consist of him just standing there onstage and moving in slow motion as his exposes parts of his plan to the audience, whether he is wielding a weapon or a security tag to blend in. His subtle movements alone are so artistically gratifying. For example, at one point he aims a gun at the audience with a laser target and as he slowly turns, the little red dot floats throughout the audience.

That was SO scary.

We know very little about him as more and more gets revealed throughout the story, and I think the mysteriousness about him is what makes him menacing and more interesting. Not knowing the story going in, the mystery and suspense really got me more excited about the musical. As frightening as he is, I actually looked forward to his scenes to get frightened by him again. It adds STORY and danger to what is otherwise a Deborah Cox tribute to Whitney Houston. Like the intro, it also brings darkness to the table, which can be unusual regarding musicals (depending on the musical, of course).

Also, the scenes with him are the best executed. The shadowy lighting and sinister background music are enough to send chills up your spine. My favorite is the basement concert scene where he issues his first attempt at striking Rachel. Frank blocks him and then we get the famous stance of Frank lifting up Rachel and holding her in his arms as she tucks her head into his shoulder.

Paniagua is nicely casted to stand out. The guy is pretty gigantic. The other men in this are a bit shorter and thinner than him so when he actually does show up in the concert scenes, you KNOW and it's like "Oh, SHIT! It's him!!!"

What's funny is that when he came out for the curtain call, the audience booed him and shouted, "Stalker! Stalker!" I felt bad for him. lol

However, he does have his fans in the crowd. When he and his fellow castmates left the lobby after visiting with the cast member's family, audience members were upset that they missed him.

"Oh, I liked him. I wanted to see him," lamented one woman. :)

Looks like I'm not alone. ;)

Megan Fulmer and the Karaoke Scene

A Montclair State University alum is in this!! Megan Elyse Fulmer graduated a year after I did, so therefore I have seen her in plenty of department shows and written about them.

Frank takes Rachel out for karaoke because she so cleverly convinces him to take her out on a date. Rachel starts to fall for Frank after she realizes that her life is in danger and that Frank is skilled to protect her, so she goes, "I'd like to go on a date, but I can't go anywhere without you, so why don't you take me out on a date?"

Nice. I ought to try that myself.

My mom and I both noticed that she seems to fall for Frank perhaps a little too abnormally quick, especially considering how harshly she reacts to him earlier. Another minor criticism. Her managers keep her in the dark about the impending peril beforehand and so now all of a sudden she warms up to Frank, so this could explain her 180 change of heart. This is a stage musical so things do need to move along rapidly for time. Plus, it could probably be pretty easy for a woman to become infatuated with a strong hunky man watching over her. These reasons are likely why I didn't dedicate a whole section to this.

The karaoke scene opens up with three college girls drunkenly singing karaoke, Fulmer one of them. She's actually the most comical of the three. This is actually when I first recognized her. I looked through the Playbill during intermission to determine this and I was like "I knew it was her!"

This particularly scene is intriguing because the girls have their own little tale going on while Rachel and Frank chat on the other side of the stage. They hang out in the karaoke club and the guy on the next table asks one of them (not Fulmer) to dance and to join him at his table, and so it's suggested that perhaps a romance is blossoming. Because I was seated closer to their side of the stage, I found myself focusing on this more than the central characters. I think small moments like that among the ensemble while the main characters have their main story is a nice touch and sometimes may go unnoticed. However, sometimes this isn't great either because it can distract you from the main event going on onstage, but it's needed too because they can't just sit there like mannequins. They need to have to own interactions for the scene to look realistic.

Then again, knowing how 2016 went, perhaps them acting like mannequins would have been just as acceptable. :P

Frank challenges Rachel to try some karaoke herself and suggests that she sings a "Rachel Marron" song. Because Rachel is in hiding from her stalker in this scene, at first she is incognito.

As she sings her song and gets into it, Fulmer's character is the first to recognize her. Then they all do what normal college girls in 2016 would do: they start to fangirl and attempt videos and selfies with her in the background. I appreciate this scene most because of how normal, relatable, and current it is.

Eventually they are glided off the stage, leaving only Rachel and Frank, which leads to the Act 1 finale.

Modern Technology Effects

This is something I am kinda "meh" about, but yet appreciate because it brings the story into the 21st century, more so present day 2010s.

Here is what I liked about this. In certain scenes, like the karaoke scene and the concert basement scene, we see her fans use cell phone cameras to take photos with her. This is interesting because camera phones and selfies didn't exist back in the 90s when the movie came out, so this is a great way to evolve the story. Another way they do this is through e-mail, a phenomenon just beginning to debut in the 90s. The Stalker starts to send Rachel e-mails, and so therefore Frank and his colleagues trace the IP address to determine his identity.

But here is where the technology did not evolve the movie, in my opinion. At the end of the musical, when Rachel sings "I Will Always Love You" about Frank, a screen lowers in front of her. Then a closeup of Frank and footage of dramatized recaps between the two throughout the musical is projected onto the screen.

Now, this isn't altogether bad, but a little unnecessary. Flashbacks are something you would expect in a film, but having Rachel onstage simply singing, which is what Cox does throughout the musical, is all that is really needed to convey her heartache and pain in that moment.

Which is funny, because I criticized her doing just this before. lol

I do like this when it is done with The Stalker, however. Along with the voiceovers, the musical introduces him to us through recorded visuals on a screen of him assembling the notes he gives to Rachel.

Using this technique at all evolves the musical itself as a theater piece because usually musicals or any staged production do not use this format. Because "The Bodyguard" is a more modern musical, it does.

Judson Mills and Deborah Cox

I had the pleasure of meeting both Deborah Cox and Judson Mills outside after the show. I interacted with other cast members as well, but these are the only two people with whom I took photos.

Judson Mills came out first. He thanked people for waiting and immediately said, "Does anybody want me to sign anything?" I immediately loved his attitude. He actually offered to sign things for people without them having to ask. Tremendously friendly guy. Also, a cool fact about him: He grew up in a stone house built by George Washington in Virginia.

By the way, during the curtain call when the cast was all dancing on the stage, just as the curtain closed, he dabbed. Lol This is very important to mention. It's funny seeing him dance with the rest of the cast considering his character is so straight edge.

(Added 2/16/17 10:28 PM) It seems like dabbing is something he enjoys doing. ;) (End addition.)

Finally Deborah Cox came out. She was so kind and was willing to sign autographs and take photos and was much appreciative of our support. She interacted with her fans like they were her friends and briefly talked about her holiday plans. People praised her performance and she attributed her job well done to the music and lyrics themselves, which she really does justice. :)

Shout out to the guy in the background of our photo, by the way. He's REALLY cool. He's basically like the guard (or BODYguard...okay I'm done :P) who supervises the meet and greets. We're becoming pals. lol :)

Also, here is Deborah Cox's interview with Wendy Williams about the tour.

How would would it have been if we ran into Wendy Williams at the show too???

In conclusion, I wouldn't say that "The Bodyguard" was the best show that I have seen at Paper Mill Playhouse, but it certainly was very entertaining. I liked it more than I thought I would given that I was uncertain what to anticipate going into it and how they would make a musical around a headstrong woman claiming to not need her bodyguard's protection. It was a fun experience and I look back at it with fondness. It's a great performance for all those who are fans of Whitney Houston, Deborah Cox, and Judson Mills. Everything put into it is done very well.

And now this show and "Something Rotten!", a show on Broadway that also closed January 1 that I unfortunately never got to see but tried so hard to, are currently on their national tours! Break legs! :D

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