When Charlotte saw Deborah Cox five years ago, she was fleeing from the murderous affection of the insane title character in “Jekyll & Hyde.” Now she’s back at Belk Theater, escaping the murderous affection of an insane stalker in “The Bodyguard.” Somebody needs to get this woman into “South Pacific” and give her a rest.
Of course, there she wouldn’t be able to sing the music Whitney Houston made famous in the film 25 years ago. And that music suits Cox’s big set of pipes. After a brief prologue, she opens “The Bodyguard” on its national tour with the huge “Queen of the Night,” as if kicking off an arena rock show. By the time the entire cast did a post-curtain “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” exhorting the audience to sing along, she had bewitched the PNC Broadway Lights crowd.
The script by Alexander Dinelaris simplifies Lawrence Kasdan’s already shallow film screenplay. For instance, both a stalker and a professional hit man chased pop singer Rachel Marron in the movie; here they’re merged into one character.
We get no back story on bodyguard Frank Farmer (Judson Mills). He’s just a guy with a mission and nothing to make him compelling enough for Rachel (Cox) and sister Nicki (Jasmin Richardson) to tumble for him almost at once. This isn’t a knock on the amiable, low-key Mills, who channels Kevin Costner’s foursquare, slightly stodgy Frank from the film. None of the characters registers as anything more than an excuse for music.
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But what music! We get the five fine songs Houston debuted in the film plus almost a dozen more, and Cox – who sings most of them – makes them her own. Her slightly husky, sometimes soaring and impassioned vocals make you forget improbabilities or absurdities in the writing. Richardson has a lustrous voice, too; Nicki must sing a little less well than Rachel, of course, but Richardson cut loose with Cox during the finale to show her chops in a duet.
By then we were in full concert mode. Male dancers leapfrogged and somersaulted; a sassy female chorus strutted; Douglas Baldeo, who plays Rachel’s 10-year-old son, had the woman behind me shouting, “He’s like a little MJ!” (Sure enough, his credits say he toured in “Motown: The Musical,” presumably as Michael Jackson.)
Even the stalker, stone-faced Jorge Paniagua, swung his lady merrily through the all-out number. We had gone down Memory Lane, away from any kind of dramatic experience to a time when Houston was in her prime, “The Bodyguard” was a monster movie hit, and we all wanted to dance with somebody who loved us. It was a joyful moment.
P.S. Charlotte native Jonathan Hadley has a fair-sized supporting role as Rachel’s pushy publicist, Sy Spector. I would guess it requires about one-fifth of his range as an actor, but he’s fun to watch.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.
Running time: 140 minutes.
Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.