THE POP SUPERSTAR’S SONG CATALOG HELPS TURN ‘THE BODYGUARD,’ A 1992 MOVIE, INTO A FULLY REALIZED STAGE MUSICAL
The musical “The Bodyguard” runs March 28-April 2 at the Fox Theatre. Details, tickets HERE or at 855.285.8499
FROM 42nd STREET TO XANADU. From Legally Blonde and Billy Elliot to Kinky Boots, The Lion King and Newsies. As Disney Theatricals and many other producers know, it’s reasonable and often profitable to turn a feature film into an amped-up stage musical. So why not The Bodyguard?
The 1992 movie, a star vehicle for pop superstar Whitney Houston, won hearts for two reasons: the unexpected on-screen pairing and passable chemistry of Houston and co-star Kevin Costner, and Houston’s powerful performance of “I Will Always Love You.”
The Dolly Parton-penned song won a Grammy Award for record of the year and became the best-selling single by a woman in music history. The movie soundtrack won the 1994 Grammy for album of the year. So the stage must be next, right? Well yes, and no. It took creators 20 years to get there.
In this tour, Grammy-nominated R&B artist Deborah Cox takes the Houston role.
Revisit the film today, and you’ll notice that 1990s superstars and their handlers conducted high-octane business without benefit of cellphones. Do the musical’s creators stick to that era or update? What else is different?
The stage version of The Bodyguard, which launched in the United Kingdom in 2012 and brought audiences to their feet, does include cellphones and social media. The musical premiered stateside in December at the highly reputable Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, N.J., then began a national tour. It has not yet played Broadway.
Book writer Alexander Dinelaris (an Oscar winner for Birdman) fiddled just slightly with the essential Bodyguard story: A stalker is threatening superstar Rachel Marron (the Houston role), so her security team is beefed up by hiring the no-nonsense Frank Farmer.
In the movie, Farmer is a former Secret Service agent haunted by the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan. The musical spends more time on Rachel’s story than on Frank’s.
If you watch the movie to see where the songs might go onstage, you’ll come up empty. Then you learn that the stage version is filled with Houston hits (“I’m Every Woman,” “One Moment in Time,” “Greatest Love of All,” among many others), and you think, “Well, of course.”
Like other jukebox musicals (Jersey Boys and On Your Feet! come to mind), the plot goes on hold when the hits are performed. The Bodyguard’s songs, said The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood, “were written to top the pop charts, not to move along a story or define a personality.”
You might also notice that the role of Rachel’s sister, Nicki, has grown. She, too, is romantically interested in Frank Farmer.
“We wanted to create a triangle around what happens when two sisters whose lives are locked up in a big celebrity world both fall in love with the same Mr. Perfect,” said British director Thea Shattock. The goal: “a thriller and kaleidoscope of love stories.”
The Bodyguard “offers two divas for the price of one,” said Bergen County (N.J.) Record critic Jim Beckerman, reviewing the Paper Mill production. The two leading ladies, he wrote, took turns blowing the roof off the theater. The Frank Farmer character isn’t asked to sing anything more than a light karaoke moment.
As you might expect, some of the movie’s moments and themes have been heightened for the stage. One goal was to focus on the Rachel-Frank story arc but not exclusively. The stalker story also gets its time. Without him, Shattock said, “you wouldn’t need the bodyguard.”
‘BODYGUARD’ FUN FACTS
Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill) wrote the first Bodyguard screenplay in the mid-1970s as a vehicle for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross.
- Kevin Costner reportedly modeled his “cool detachment” after McQueen and chose a closely cropped McQueen haircut.
- The movie was the seventh-highest grossing film of 1992, earning $410 million worldwide.
- Heather Headley, a Tony Award winner for Aida (2000), originated the role of Rachel Marron in London.
- The musical, which spent years in development, opened nine months after Whitney Houston’s death on Feb. 11, 2012.