SCHENECTADY — Doubtful that there is anyone, even the creative team of "The Bodyguard: The Musical," who would passionately argue that the show onstage at Proctors through Sunday night should be labeled a serious entry into the canon of essential American musicals.
It doesn’t even come close.
I shudder when I pick up a playbill and the title of a show has “: The Musical” tacked on. (The addition of an exclamation point only intensifies the anxiety.) This two word suffix screams to me that I am likely to witness a lifeless retread of a popular movie or television show.
There are, of course, exceptions to this, but sadly not too many. For every brilliant “: The Musical!” show, "The Lion King" for example, there are a plethora of shows such as "Dirty Dancing: The Musical!," "Fame: The Musical" and "Ghost: The Musical that reinforce the dread.
Why do these lame stage versions keep appearing? Well, cash for one. These shows rake in big bucks with their lure of nostalgia. Producers count on the simple fact that the name of something that we loved from our past will be the sole dangling carrot needed to get us into the theater. Perhaps these shows should instead be branded with the suffix “: A Comfort Food Musical” because that is what they promise.
But how often does that promised revisit to the past actually satisfy? It’s nearly impossible to live up to a memory. Think about that moment when in a recent fit of nostalgia you grabbed a can of Beef-A-Roni off the supermarket shelf and dropped it into your cart giddy with anticipation to taste the bliss from your past. But as you watched it plop and ooze into your favorite cereal bowl, there is instant regret. “What was I thinking? Why did I buy this?” Some of us are done with “The Chef,” but for others is still a meal fit for a king – and I sort of envy that. Count me in with the former.
But I am not judging. Just because on the way to the microwave my bowl took a detour to the trash can doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t walk it back and punch the 90 seconds to nostalgia nirvana on the keypad. You may need some Tums later, but go ahead. My point is: "The Bodyguard: The Musical" is nostalgia, but it is not for everyone.
Like that pasta in a can, the label has changed slightly, but the plot to the "Bodyguard" musical is similar enough to what we remember. The story is still: “Diva gets stalked. Management hires a stoic, buff bodyguard who diva decides to loathe. Sparks fly, power ballads soar. Diva decides that he’s not so bad and they both end up in bed together. The diva is now happy, but her stalker returns (cue scary organ chord. This happens several times in the musical.) Murder attempted but diva is saved. Bodyguard’s work is done, so he must leave. Diva, now sad, performs Dolly Parton song (brilliantly.) Curtain call, dance break and another curtain call.
Sadly, there is little to recommend in this theatrical tinned meal save for some of the talented cast and a few musical numbers. Deborah Cox, as the diva Rachel Marron, vocally impresses as she powers through the Whitney Houston songbook. “One Moment in Time,” “All at Once” and “How Will I Know” are commandingly presented and the show’s closing “I Will Always Love You” does not disappoint.
Character development? An actress would need a script for that, and that is missing here, so we’ll just say, it’s hard to be diva. Cox’s duet with Naomi C. Walley (as Rachel’s sister, Nikki) stands out as the vocal high point of the evening. Imbued with some genuine emotion and dramatic tension, the number is exceptional … as Walley nearly steals the song away from Cox.
The show is slickly presented, features some spectacular dancers, a great band (under the taut direction of Matthew Smedal), and has some great lighting. But it is just dull. Thankfully the evening does contain some humor, but almost all of it is unintentional and I am quite sure that was not the intent of director Thea Sharrock.
I am not sure if there will ever be a revival of "The Bodyguard: The Musical," which will be produced outside of Las Vegas. So if the soulful soundtrack of the late Houston is what you crave, go grab a ticket to this musical’s one moment in time at Proctors before the week ends. If not, a shuffle of Whitney’s Greatest Hits on your MP3 player should be just fine.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State. St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $95-$20
MORE INFO: 518-346-6204, www.proctors.org