Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park
Screenplay by Lawrence Kadsen, Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Choreography by Karen Bruce
Scenic and Costume Design by Tim Hatley
Lighting Design by Mark Henderson
Sound Design by Richard Brooker
Video Design by Duncan McLean
Hair, Wigs, & Make-Up Design by Campbell Young
Associate Direction by Frank Thompson
Orchestrations & Additional Music by Chris Egan
Production Musical Supervision & Vocal Arrangements by Mike Dixon
Musical Supervision by Richard Beadle
Production Stage Management by Melissa Chacón
Stage Management by Richard A. Leigh
Assistant Stage Management by Stacy N. Taylor
Deborah Cox: Rachel Marron
Judson Mills: Frank Farmer
Douglas Baldeo: Fletcher
Alex Corrado: Tony Scibelli
Jarid Faubel: Matthew Schmidt
Charles Gray: Bill Devaney
Jonathan Hadley: Sy Spector
Kevelin B. Jones III: Fletcher
Jorge Paniagua: The Stalker
Jasmin Richardson: Nicki Marron
Ensemble: Brendon Chan, Megan Elyse Fulmer, Alejandra Matos, DeQuina Moore, Bradford Rahmlow,
Benjamin Rivera, Matthew Schmidt, Jaquez André Sims, Nicole Spencer, Naomi C. Walley
Swings: Maria Cristina Slye, Lauren Tanner, Willie Dee, Sean Rozanski
Reviewed Performance: 7/19/2017
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
On a cool summer night in June 1991 a group of friends and me went to the Orlando Centroplex Arena to see Whitney Houston’s I’m Your Baby Tonight world tour. To hear THAT voice live was a religious experience. That powerful vocal range, her ability to sustain those impossible notes for long measures, those soulful vocal riffs, and the emotion she brought to those lyrics. Houston was a one of a kind superstar singer that the world loved and adored (as I did). This was way before her tragic downward spiral of drugs that ravaged and destroyed those golden vocal pipes and range.
On February 9, 2012 the world learned the devastating news that Whitney Houston had passed away. It was too surreal to accept that her voice and talents were gone forever. In a strange déjà vu, two days before she died she sang at a club in Hollywood, California with singer Kelly Price. The song was an acapella version of “Jesus Loves Me”. A song that she sang for the film soundtrack, The Bodyguard.
The Bodyguard was Houston’s film debut which co-starred Kevin Costner. It would become the second-highest-grossing film worldwide for 1992 while the soundtrack became the best-selling soundtrack of all time.
For years there was talk that a musical version of the film with Houston repeating her role was being made, which never came to fruition. Finally in 2012 the stage production made its debut at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s west end. Tony award winner Heather Headley would portray Rachel Marron. Critical response for the musical was mostly positive and it was extended twice.
Houston had passed away while the musical was still running in London. This sudden loss weighed heavily on Heather Headley that she almost left the stage production. Headley told the BBC news, "You don't want people to compare you to Whitney. I didn't want it before and especially not now after her passing. I want people to come in and say this is Heather's version - this is Heather playing Rachel Marron and singing Whitney songs. I am always trying to find a way to make them my own but still acknowledge and keep the integrity of her music." Headley did stay with the musical until her contract was up.
The London casting recording was released in 2016, which I purchased immediately. However Headley did not reprise her role for the cast recording, it would be Alexandra Burke, who was the winner on the 5th season of The X Factor. She was in the stage musical at the time of the recording.
There are no new or original songs composed specifically for the stage version. The entire score comes from Houston’s distinguished, chart breaking music catalogue as well as songs from the film’s soundtrack. Suffice to say this is a jukebox musical.
Alexander Dinelaris’s book is structured around Kadsen’s screenplay with changes and alterations. The book for the stage tells the story through Rachel Marron, the film was told through Costner’s character Frank Farmer. Dinelaris also beefed up the role of Rachel’s sister, Nicki. The book is decent and does work overtime to stick emotionally like Elmer’s glue to the songs. There are two glaring problems with the book. One is not expanding emotionally the character of the stalker. We’ve seen how stalkers go insane with their obsession of a celebrity. But Dinelaris doesn’t let us into the mind of Rachel’s stalker. The other major issue in the book is that Frank Farmer does not sing a single song (the karaoke song really doesn’t count). After all that is the male principal role. It would have balanced so much the story and music to have Farmer sing a song of his past or how he is falling in love with Rachel. That’s where new, original songs could have been created to flesh out these two major characters so that they are on equal ground emotionally with Rachel Marron.
I have had the great pleasure of seeing Grammy award nominated, multi-platinum R&B/Pop recording artist Deborah Cox in two of her past musicals. She is considered as one of the epic divas of the dance floor due to her massive hits she’s recorded in dance music. I have seen Cox in the title role of Elton John’s Aida (the very role that earned Headley her Tony Award). I also saw Cox in the Broadway revival of Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll & Hyde. Now she is the first actress in the United States to originate the role of Rachel Marron. Cox has a towering hurdle that is set before her every single night. She has to win the audience over with HER vision, emotion, and voice. She is not Whitney Houston nor is she there to copy Houston’s voice. Cox has the majority of the songs from Houston’s canon assigned to her role. I tremendously commend her on creating her very own sparkling vocals, riffs, and emotions with these songs. Out of so many hits, my personal favorite songs that Cox performed include “I Have Nothing”, “All the Man I Ever Need”, ”One Moment in Time”, “Greatest Love of All”, and “I Will Always Love you”. With her powerhouse vocals and deep emotion, she brought the house down in those numbers among others. Cox shattered and demolished the glass walls that Houston encased her original versions of these chart busting hit songs. Cox’s voice is a mixture of alto that glides up to soprano, her vibrato acted as equipoise for her crystal clear vocals. Cox also happens to be a drop dead gorgeous woman. She physically is breath taking beautiful.
Ms. Cox brings forth organic honesty and striking realism to her character within her box of acting tools. She balanced her emotions and subtext beautifully with her son, her sister, her support team, her dancers, and especially her bodyguard. Yes, some of the dialogue is at times kitschy and monotonous, but thankfully Cox keeps her characterization grounded, thus able to rise above some of the clunky dialogue. Cox’s chemistry with Judson Mills (Frank Farmer) is raw, sensual, erotic, and extremely fascinating to watch. Cox and Mills both allow their chemistry to be on the same emotional level and allows us the audience to see it grow from a star and her bodyguard, to pleasant strangers, to sexually intense lovers, to finally a man and woman who love each other, but know they can’t stay together.
If you walk into the theater and you are waiting to hear live recreations of Houston’s voice, you will be deeply disappointed, and quite frankly unfair to Ms. Cox. She’s not there to do an impersonation of Houston whatsoever. She is an extraordinary talent in her own right. Cox is doing the role and music as SHE sees and hears it within her own vocals, talent, and heart. If you go with an open mind, you will see Deborah Cox deliver a sensational, captivating, and astonishing performance as Rachel Marron.
Judson Mills will look very familiar to audiences as he has done tons of film and television. Here Mills portrays Frank Farmer, the bodyguard. Let’s be honest here, Mills is incredibly much more handsome than Kevin Costner (who originated the film role). Costner was not sexy in the role, but now it is with Mills. I’ll repeat what a woman said behind me at intermission, “Damn that man is FINE!” Mills has strong, masculine chiseled features, and a muscular body. I write this description because with him and Cox you get such a passionate, sexy, dynamic couple on stage. Their chemistry drips with erotic heat and tension. From my seat you can clearly see how they both hunger for each other with just their eyes. Mills portrays the role in various emotional layers that line up perfectly within his characterization. He can be a strict, by the book FBI agent, or become a father figure to Rachel’s son; or a man who will listen and show support to Nicki (Rachel’s sister). One of the best surprises was when Farmer (Mills) loses a bet, so now he has to sing a Karaoke song. He chooses “I Will Always Love You” (great foreshadowing!). Mills had the audience rolling in the aisles with his singing…er….make that sing/talk through the song. That comedy revealed a man with a great sense of humor behind the shield. Mills has remarkable, blinding stage presence to go with his sublime acting craft. The one major problem with the role is that he has no musical numbers. Because of how strong Cox and Mills are together, we only hear Rachel’s inner thoughts and feelings in her music. But unfortunately Mills cannot do this as he has no music. This is greatly unfair to both the character and Mills. Regardless, Judson Mills delivers a magnificent, exceptional performance.
There were three performances that at curtain call received thunderous cheers and applause, which I wholeheartedly agree with! These three scene stealers were:
Kevelin B. Jones III as Fletcher, Rachel’s young son. This kid was adorable! He held up his own with his adult co-stars. The kid also had some good comedic timing. Jones and Judson Mills have some touching moments in their scenes. You could see a boy so badly wanting to connect to Mills like a father. And the boy can sing! It surprised all of us in the audience Wednesday night!
The character called the stalker in the musical could have easily been so paint by number, over the top weirdo, but fortunately he was none of that in Jorge Paniagua’s hands. Paniagua is an extremely tall man who physically looks like the cover from Muscle Fitness magazine. However his blonde hair and boyish features melts off some of that icy, menacing facade. The role contains very little dialogue, so Paniagua has to rely only with his facial expressions, body language, and in particular his eyes. The stalker has this idea that Rachel Marron loves him and she is HIS woman. In several moments Paniagua’s facial expressions are dead, cold, lifeless glares that are bone chilling. It is a major flaw in the musical that this character did not have a song. We could have learned about his childhood, why he loves Rachel, or what happened in the military to him (In his first scene we see him wearing army green fatigues and his dog tags). This is why Paniauga’s performance is so spine tingling fantastic. He reveals his emotions through his face and body, without a single line of dialogue. He delivers a first rate performance.
Finally there is Jasmin Richardson as Nikki, Rachel’s sister. The role is given a lot more emotional weight in the stage version than the film did. There are several key scenes where you see what her life looks like being a sister to a major worldwide superstar. Think of the Marron sisters’ relationship to Solange Knowles having to live under the shadow of the Queen Beyoncé! Ms. Richardson has a luminous, crystal soulful soprano topped off with an unbreakable belt. She has a couple of songs in the production which allows Richardson to display those magical vocal chops. Richardson ebbs heart breaking pain within her subtext and characterization. She is a riveting stand out in this production.
The ensemble is sizzling hot in this tour. These insanely talented performers have to dance at such high intense energy with perfect precision and technique. Karen Bruce’s lavish and hypnotic choreography is a potpourri of jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, lyric, ballroom, and even salsa, cumbia, and tango! This is a tour de force ensemble that will dazzle you. One dancer in particular kept standing out from the rest. His stage presence and flawless execution of the choreography had the audience immediately zero in on him each time he was on stage. This very impressive dancer is Benjamin Rivera. Watch his energy and sublime dance technique in the number “I’m Every Woman”. It was not until I got home and read my Playbill that I discovered that Rivera serves as the dance captain for the tour.
Also from the ensemble are three girls that had the audience howling in laughter. Megan Elyse Fulmer, Dequina Moore, and Naomi C. Walley play three totally trashed college girls at a bar that Rachel and Frank arrive at. As mentioned before, the star and the bodyguard had a bet that both had to sing karaoke. Rachel (Cox) goes up and sings one of her major hits, “I Have Nothing”. She has on a scarf and sunglasses, as she starts to sing, she slowly peels them off revealing the superstar. Fulmer, Moore, and Walley through their drunken haze realize OMG! That’s RACHEL MARRON! What they do next is hilarious! These three crazed fans go bonkers over their idol that is only inches away from them singing!
There is a superabundance of musical numbers that electrify the stage with explosions of lights and fog machines that shoot endless rows of hot steam. The showstoppers for me was the explosive and vigorous “Queen of the Night”, the exciting Mayan Medley, and “I’m Every Woman”. For that number they added an intoxicating percussion and horn section that was covered in scorching Latin ballroom technique.
Tim Hatley’s slick scenic and costume designs were a feast for the eyes. There are quite a lot of scenes in this production, and Hatley marvelously designed each one to stand out. From the rock and roll themed concert at the beginning to Rachel’s sleek mansion bathed in whites. The costumes were spectacular as well. It was a sea of rhinestones, beads, sequins, and ostrich feathers. The gorgeous couture gown that Cox wore when she sang “I’ll Always Love You” is exquisite. The gown is encrusted with rhinestones while the bottom was a very long, massive, flowing train of black iridescent feathers. The lighting design by Mark Henderson is PHENOMINAL! Searing bright and tons of colors that it might burn out your retinas! His design goes from arena style rock concert, to the soft hues of Rachel’s mansion to the never ending array of colors and gobos for “I’m Every Woman”. Your jaw will drop to the floor when you see the awesome production elements of this musical.
When DSM announced that they were bringing this musical to the Music Hall I was filled with great excitement. I was not disappointed in the least as it way surpassed my expectations. This is a glossy, sleek, and superlative musical that brings to life on stage both an iconic film and an homage to the music catalogue of one of the greatest female singers of all time. The entire Bodyguard Company has created a remarkable and exhilarating musical that does NOT disappoint whatsoever!
THE BODYGUARD-The Musical (National Tour)
Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park
Through July 30, 2017
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