Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard the musical, currently at Belk Theater.

 

My husband and I were married on February 11, 2012. It was a special day for us, as one can imagine. But while we were cutting our strawberry cake and enjoying the moment with our families, the highly decorated and unbelievably talented songstress, Whitney Houston, was taking her last breath in a hotel bathtub. Tonight at Belk Theater, I couldn’t help thinking of that day while enjoying “The Bodyguard” the musical, adapted from a film of the same name in which Houston starred in 1992. This time, the star of the show is Deborah Cox, a friend of the late Houston, and equally as talented.

At Belk Theater, the night literally started off with a bang. Director Thea Sharrock succeeded in making sure all eyes were on the stage from the moment the curtains were drawn. There were talkers engrossed in their own conversations that halted mid-sentence due to the ruckus up front. Judson Mills as agent-turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, commanded attention as soon as he stepped under the dim lighting. His chiseled jaw and scruffy face, though stern, was protective early on.

Deborah Cox plays bold and brazen entertainer, Rachel Marron, the role Whitney Houston made famous 25 years ago on screen. Cox, an international star herself, fully embodies her character and makes it her own, even with big shoes to fill. From her first song “Queen of the Night”, she is just that – the queen of the night. The astonishingly hefty voice belts from Cox’s small but toned frame and reverberates all over the auditorium. This voice, by the way, earned her a spot on music mogul Clive Davis’s recording team as well as numerous nominations and honors over the years. Every song Cox sings comes from deep within and emerges stronger than you expect.

Rachel’s sister Nicki Marron (Jasmin Richardson) is her assistant, confidante, and anything else she needs her to be. Jasmin brings more personality to the role than I remember (from the movie). Her voice, even when dulled for the scene, rivals Cox’s throughout the performance. It’s no wonder that Richardson is the understudy for the lead character and actually plays Rachel two nights a week. A beautiful duet between the sisters marry their voices for a brief moment, in perfect harmony.

Though Cox carries the majority of the weight during the show, the other players carry their parts well. Fletcher Marron (Douglas Baldeo this night), Rachel’s son has an impressive song and dance number that shows off both skills. Jorge Paniagua is ‘The Stalker’ lusting for the sought-after singer throughout the performance. He’s beautifully creepy and will cause you to look over your shoulder while walking to your car in the uptown darkness. Farmer has a comical moment, in a bar, with a beer and a microphone that breaks the melancholy cloud of said creep.

The set was very versatile. The curtains were used as a projection screen to display montages of the relationship between the two stubborn but smitten characters. Different colors framed the spaces and created moods occasionally. One moment the stage is a bedroom, a living room, a recording studio, a bar, a concert hall, and a cozy cabin in the wilderness.

Several things are different from the movie of course, if you can remember back that far. There is still the same intensity, the same undeniable attraction between the two and a talented supporting cast. Most importantly, the favorite musical numbers you’d expect to hear are all there and Deborah Cox along with Jasmine Richardson bring down the house all night. Isn’t that what we really care about anyway?

For more information visit www.blumenthalarts.org.

Image courtesy of Joan Marcus