Thrilling in every way ‘The Bodyguard’ comes to the Sergerstrom

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By Lynda Lacayo

By Lynda Lacayo

A new take on a familiar story, the “Bodyguard” will appeal to both fans and people new to musical theater. The romantic thriller, based on the 1992 film of the same name is as much a suspense play as a clever jukebox musical that pays tribute to the songbook of the late celebrity.  Featuring a stalker, a superstar, and a showcase of Whitney Houston songs, Rachel Marron who plays the superstar is surrounded by an entourage, which includes her publicist, Sy Spector, played by Jonathan Hadley. Hadley, who describes himself as an actor who sings, says the role appealed to him both because he is a fan of Deborah Cox and because he was a natural Sy Spector. Hadley spent seven years touring as Bob Crewe, a music producer in “Jersey Boys,” so he’s no stranger to playing the man behind the celebrity. He says of the similarity of his acting roles in both musicals, “I have some great scenes with fun lines and it’s fine with me that someone else does all the singing while I get to make things pop for the star personalities.  I suppose it’s odd that both these characters are similar but I enjoy playing quick thinkers who make things happen.”

“The Bodyguard” is billed as romantic suspense and as Hadley says, “there aren’t a lot of musicals that can be put into the thriller genre. Perhaps, ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ because of the chase scene, but this show is definitely a thriller. There are screams that come from the storyline and the audience reacts with screams of their own. Yeah, it’s cool.”

A jukebox musical is a show that takes popular music from a catalogue and develops a storyline around the music. “The Bodyguard” fits neatly into that category but it is also as Hadley points out, “a tribute to the late Whitney Houston and her song book and is based on her Oscar nominated movie, which Alexander Dinelaris adapted for the stage. The script has been streamlined somewhat but it’s still very much the story that fans of the film will remember, only with more Houston songs. Whitney sings four or five songs in the movie and onstage Deborah Cox sings 13 songs nightly. It’s a remarkable feat and I am in awe of her. It’s just amazing to hear her sing all this material.”

Jukebox or otherwise, this is a musical and while Cox does most of the singing, others in the cast belt out a song or two as well. Hadley says, “Frank Farmer, the leading man and love interest, kind of sings, I won’t give it away but there’s a twist in the way he sings. The bulk of the singing is all Cox but the character of her sister Nicki, played by Jasmin Richardson, does takes on three songs and a duet with Cox. The voices of these two women are extraordinary. Nicki does have a few songs and the rest of us sing in the background but oh wow, it’s all Deborah.” 

A few things have been done to make the musical different from the movie. British director Thea Sharrock has enhanced various themes for the stage. She says, “the most important thing was to get the arc of the relationship and interweave it with the stalker, because without him we wouldn’t need Frank, the bodyguard.”

Hadley is cautious about sharing the plot but says, “The producers have tweaked the musical in small ways to make it different from the film. For example, they have made Rachel’s sister a larger presence and frankly a more sympathetic character. It is more streamlined and a couple of characters have been combined in the storyline.” He continues, “Of course, they couldn’t duplicate on stage all the physical aspects of the movie. But, basically the main storyline remains and that’s what fans of the movie will remember and enjoy.

Hadley enjoys playing Sy Spector in “The Bodyguard.” He said a friend described Sy as endearingly annoying and he likes that description.  When asked who his favorite character was in the show, he quickly replied, “Oh, Sy Spector, of course. He has some great lines and scenes. There’s a line that pops into my head but again, I don’t want to give away too much. Here’s a hint, Sy gets the dirty jokes and they’re not too raunchy because this is a family show. I consider Sy a likable character, although I’m not sure how audiences feel, that’s where the endearingly annoying part comes in and I do get all the laughs.”

In “The Bodyguard,” there are some surprises for spectators but according to Hadley the ultimate highlight comes at the end of the show where they, “Tell audiences not to leave after Curtain Call because there’s a fantastic finale that’s really fun. There has been standing ovations after every performance because there is just so much about this show that audiences respond to: Deborah Cox’s performance, the nostalgia of Whitney Houston’s music and again, that amazing finale which brings everyone to their feet.”  “The Bodyguard” staring Deborah Cox is playing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts from May 30 to June 11. For more information, call the Segerstrom at 714-556-2782 or visit sfta.org.

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