xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

In Toby’s Dinner Theatre production of ‘The Bodyguard,’ a lot of Whitney goes a long way

The 2012 musical theater version of the Whitney Houston-starring 1992 movie “The Bodyguard” is just as weak in terms of its script, but listening to her greatest hits makes it really easy to enjoy.

That’s definitely the case for a Toby’s Dinner Theatre production in which you’ll hear “How Will I Know,” “Queen of the Night,” “The Greatest Love of All,” “Saving All My Love for You,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “I’m Every Woman,” “I Will Always Love You” and more. Speaking of more, there are more of the late vocalist’s songs in the stage version than in the movie. Nobody will complain about that!

Advertisement

The story’s melodramatic premise seems like it should work, considering the romantic tension between a music star named Rachel Marron and a personal bodyguard named Frank Farmer. In the original movie, Houston looks great and knows how to act like a star; and, of course, she sure knows how to sing. As the bodyguard, Kevin Costner has the ruggedly handsome look of somebody who has weathered his share of bad breaks.

A major problem in the Lawrence Kasdan screenplay is that their romantic interplay seems forced, and the actors simply don’t generate the chemistry to make this seem like a very compelling relationship. Also, the movie is poorly paced and needlessly runs beyond the two-hour mark. Thank goodness for the music.

The theatrical adaptation by Alexander Dinelaris does not fare any better with its character development and, for that matter, a stalker-themed plot that always seems formulaic rather than emotionally convincing. To its credit, though, the stage version moves along at a relatively snappy pace.

Even more to its credit is that there are plenty of glitzy musical production numbers to take advantage of the obvious fact that this is live theater. This is the area where the Toby’s production co-directed by Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick is at its best.

Although some members of the ensemble are stronger than others, they cohere fairly well under choreographer Shalyce Hemby. Dressed by costume designer Janine Sunday in outfits that sometimes amount to a sartorial fusion of black leather and sequins, they’re quite energetic as they sing and dance their way through the show. The crisply played musical accompaniment overseen by music director Ross Scott Rawlings also ensures that “The Bodyguard” remains entertaining.

The central pairing of Rachel and Frank in this production does not exactly generate sparks, but succeeds well enough. As Rachel, Ashley Johnson-Moore embodies what you expect from a musical diva. Her appearance and her acting are fine, but her singing warrants a more measured response. Although she proves with “I Will Always Love You” and several other numbers that she can belt out a power ballad in a way that does Whitney Houston justice, Johnson-Moore has a tendency here to indulge in so much vocal ornamentation and so many dramatic pauses that many songs seem mannered. The all-important musical flow is impeded.

Making this an even more vexing issue in the Toby’s production is that Rachel’s sister, Nicki, is portrayed by an actor with a consistently more impressive singing voice. As Nicki, Samantha McEwen Deininger sings with disciplined technique and emotional power. She also looks like a star.

This is no small consideration within the plot, because Rachel is a big star who currently has a song that’s up for an Academy Award, while Nicki is singing in second-rate clubs and otherwise working as part of Rachel’s management team.

Advertisement

Moreover, the role of Nicki was expanded in the 2012 stage adaptation and so there is no avoiding how the sibling dynamics play out in this particular staging. In the theatrically revamped “Bodyguard,” Nicki is jealous of her sister’s superstar status and, as if that weren’t enough, Nicki also expresses a romantic interest in Frank.

The end result is that it seems really weird to watch Rachel basking in fan worship and Nicki either performing before reasonably appreciative audiences in small clubs or basically just hanging around with the rest of Rachel’s crew.

As for the third member of a potential romantic triangle, Russell Sunday brings a suitable gruffness to the role of Frank. However, Sunday is not able to animate the stilted dialogue with which the script burdens him.

Fortunately, several veteran performers at Toby’s ensure that supporting roles are fun to watch. Most notable here is David James as Rachel’s hyperactive publicist, Sy Spector. Rachel floats through a showbiz world, after all, and so it’s nice to have minor characters with mini-diva tendencies of their own.

“The Bodyguard runs through Nov. 3 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia. Call 410-730-8311 or go to tobysdinnertheatre.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement