Dazzling dancing, strong voices lift ‘The Bodyguard’

Cheaza Figueroa (Rachel Marron) and the cast of THE BODYGUARD at North Shore Music Theatre thru November 10. Photo by Paul Lyden

BEVERLY – It isn’t easy to step into a role and sing the songs made famous by one of the most iconic performers in history.

The late Whitney Houston, who died in 2012, electrified audiences with her singing, and it turns out she was also an attraction on screen, as her 1992 movie “The Bodyguard” with Kevin Costner grossed $410 million and the soundtrack sold 45 million copies.

“The Bodyguard, The Musical” debuted not long after Houston’s tragic death, and it ran for two years in London and has toured all over the world and is now onstage at the North Shore Music Theatre through Nov. 10.

The book by Alexander Dinelaris based on the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, is, to be honest, thin gruel and pretty corny, and exists pretty much as a clothes hangar on which to hang the string of lovely power ballads sung by Cheaza Figueroa, in the Houston role as Rachel Marron, and Nicole Henry, as sister Nicki Marron.

So Figueroa isn’t Whitney Houston. Well, who the heck is? She does just fine and then some     and she’s also on board with director Nick Kenkel’s sleek, sexy production numbers, which explode onto the stage and keep the energy level running at a high level throughout.

Nicole Henry as Nicki Marron in THE BODYGUARD at North Shore Music Theatre thru November 10. Photo by Paul Lyden

After several successful NSMT productions, Kenkel simply gets it when it comes to staging production numbers in-the-round and after working with Figueroa in a Las Vegas production called “Peep Show,” he knew she could handle the dancing numbers.

Judson Mills is Frank Farmer, the former Secret Service agent hired to protect Rachel after a stalker’s unannounced and unauthorized entrance into her dressing room alarms one and all.

This may be one of the very few times in the history of the theater when the lead male role has no musical numbers and sings just a few notes, intentionally off-key.

Rachel is hostile to Frank at first, of course, but he soon earns her trust as The Stalker (Brent Thiessen), using a seemingly endless bag of tricks and deception, steadily ups the ante in getting closer to Rachel.

Farmer is a bit of a Johnny-One-Note role, but Mills, who has been performing the role on tour for the better part of two years, gamefully plays along, as Rachel seeks from him protection for her and her son, and then something more.

As sister Nicki Marron, lost in the shadow of her celebrity sister, Nicole Henry is also a fine singer in her own right, and is the odd woman out in a love triangle when she also falls for Frank. There’s a nice job by young Joshua McKenna as Fletcher, Rachel’s young son who bonds with Frank.  Jesse Sharp has a nice turn as Tony Scibelli, Rachel’s former head of security who is rankled when he must give way to Frank before they ultimately become a team.

There are fine production values that pay tribute to the movie. Scenic designer Kyle Dixon has fashioned a glitzy, Las Vegas-style stage and the costume design by Alexander Cole Gottlieb and James Nguyen is both spectacular and, in many cases, form-fitting to flatter the cast member in question. Lighting designer Jose Santiago channels his inner Las Vegas mode and sound designer Don Hanna makes sure that the excellent music direction by Wendell L. Vaughan doesn’t go unheard.

The score includes the songs Houston performed in “The Bodyguard” and some of her all-time hits, including “Greatest Love of All,” “I Will Always Love You,” “One Moment in Time,” and “Saving All My Love.”

At the end of the show, stay in your seats for a rousing encore production number with Figueroa belting out “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,”  lifting we gray hairs out our of seats, and included Figueroa joyfully dancing with a theater-goer.  

As a musical, “The Bodyguard” is best appreciated for what it is, a rainbow of fine songs skillfully performed, and some rock ‘em-sock ‘em production numbers artfully conceived and choreographed.

If you loved the film version of ‘The Bodyguard,” the musical won’t leave you disappointed.

The North Shore Music Theatre production of “The Bodyguard, The Musical.” Book by Alexander Dinelaris, based on the Warner Brothers film and the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Directed and choreographed by Nick Kenkel. At the North Shore Music Theatre through Nov. 10. Nsmt.org.

Judson Mills (Frank Farmer), Cheaza Figueroa (Rachel Marron) and Joshua McKenna (Fletcher) in THE BODYGUARD at North Shore Music Theatre thru November 10. Photo by Paul Lyden