Enjoyment of the musical “The Bodyguard” is directly proportional to your relationship to the 1992 movie starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. More importantly, to your appreciation of Houston’s songbook. If you’re not a fan of either, the musical — the tour of which opened a one-week stint at Bass Hall on Tuesday night — won’t change your opinion.
But if you are, what you get is exactly what you expect.
The musical, with a book by Alexander Dinelaris adapted from the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, sticks close to the plot of the Warner Bros. film. Rachel Marron, played by Canadian R&B star Deborah Cox, is the world’s biggest pop star and she has a stalker (Jorge Paniagua, menacing without saying a word). Her security team hires the best bodyguard in the biz, Frank (Judson Mills).
Being the diva that she is, Rachel isn’t happy with that idea, but — you know the story — she soon falls for Frank and he reciprocates. That gets them into danger as the stalker gets closer to his target, which also means that Rachel’s son, Fletcher (Douglas Baldeo at performance reviewed; alternates with Kevelin B. Jones III) and her sister, Nicki (Jasmin Richardson) are in harm’s way. The major difference with the stage version, and it’s a smart move, is to have Nicki also fall for Frank, throwing more jealousy into the equation.
Directed by Thea Sharrock and with choreography by Karen Bruce, sets and costumes by Tim Hatley (lots of sliding panels) and video design by Duncan McCLean, the musical has toured successfully in Europe and now America. Bets are that it won’t make it to Broadway; it’s just over the line of romantic schlock that does better in the rest of the country than in New York.
It uses more songs from the Houston oeuvre than were in the movie, and while none of them does much to establish character or move the plot forward in a meaningful way, it doesn’t matter. These are terrific dance and pop songs, from “All at Once” and “Saving All My Love” to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “How Will I Know.”
Besides, this is a show about a pop star. That’s something Cox — who has performed on Broadway and on tour in “Jekyll & Hyde” and Elton John’s musical of “Aida” — knows. From the opening scene when Rachel performs “Queen of the Night,” she delivers as a diva who’s worked hard to get where she is, and won’t let anything stop her. Mills is rather stiff, but then again, so was Costner. He’s handsome and commanding enough to fit the bill.
As Nicki, Richardson is the vocal star here, displaying a more legit stage voice and range than Cox. And there are some fun scenes, such as in a karaoke bar with a group of drunk college girls (Megan Elyse Fulmer, Dequina Moore, Naomi C. Walley) doing a painfully bad “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.” Speaking of, the first appearance of “I Will Always Love You,” the Dolly Parton song that Houston belted into iconic status, is surprising and hilarious.
The video elements at the end bring in a cheap-trick factor that gives romantic comedies a bad name. But by then you’ve probably given in to the idea that “The Bodyguard” is the definition of guilty pleasure. Then again, if you can still watch the film, you probably knew that.