A highly entertaining, moving production is currently playing at Toby’s Dinner and Show in Columbia: “The Bodyguard: The Musical, Featuring the Greatest Hits of Whitney Houston.” The show is sure to bring back memories as well as win young fans to the late singer, whose magnificent voice segued smoothly between pop, soul, rhythm and blues stylistics to great acclaim and all-around appeal.
The production is not so much a stage version of the Hollywood film starring Houston, but rather a convergence between a musical version of the movie and a showcase and memorial to the late singer, the icon whose life ended tragically and all too early.
Indeed, there are Houston songs included here which were not part of the original soundtrack to the film.
Clearly, much of the audience the night I attended was there to pay homage to a person who had touched their lives deeply through television and various radio formats as well as on the movie screen.
The show allows the audience to experience, once again, the intense emotional journeys which Houston took through her immense vocal talents in years past.
The singer-actresses who cover her songs, Ashley Johnson-Moore as Rachel Marron and Samantha McEwen Deininger as her sister Nicki Marron, succeeded spectacularly in making the audience members feel they were basking in the presence of Houston.
“The Greatest Love of All,” “Saving All My Love for You,” “One Moment in Time” and “I Will Always Love You” are particular cases in point and in many ways the musical highlights of the show. The lighting and stage effects add in no small measure to the overall impact, allowing the audience to experience nightclub and Oscar-like settings in complete verisimilitude.
Interestingly, the movie “The Bodyguard,” when released in 1992 was panned heavily by critics yet became the second highest-grossing movie that year worldwide, owing largely to Whitney’s sheer magnetism as well as the loyalty of her fans which sent people in droves to the movie theaters.
Indeed, 1992 was when Houston, a diva amongst divas, was at the height of her powers. With all this focus on singing and recreating a musical legend, it would be easy to gloss over the plot, but it is actually quite strong.
A stalker targets increasingly popular singer Rachel, played to great menacing effect by Justin Calhoun. That necessitates hiring bodyguard Frank Farmer, a part enacted so seamlessly by Russell Sunday that one forgets Kevin Costner originated the role.
Rachel initially resists Farmer’s obsession for security, until more and more troubling events begin to develop.
And there is also a love story, one which is entwined with the subplot of a sibling rivalry between Rachel and Nicki. “The Bodyguard” also has much to say about the more troubling aspects of our modern celebrity culture, including stalking and some of the more worrisome aspects of fame as Rachel seeks to find time for and protect her son Fletcher (played by Gavin Lampasone, Kaden Lampasone and Chase Reaves, depending on the performance).
This reviewer saw “The Bodyguard: The Musical” at Toby’s Dinner and Show on Sept. 24, and it is a testimony that Houston’s star appeal has not waned even with the star herself gone.
Toby’s talented cast and crew, directors Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick, as well as a live band with captivating jazz trumpet solos (Tony Neenan and Mike Barber, depending on the performance) all deserve credit and our gratitude for letting us bathe once more in our memories of Whitney Houston.