Stunning vocals lift Starlight’s ‘The Bodyguard’

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By Bob Evans

No musical succeeds without a spectacular musical score and the premium voices to deliver it to the audiences’ satisfaction, and the two lead female vocalists in the National Tour of “The Bodyguard” definitely deliver on the Whitney Houston cornucopia of Top 40 hits that serve as the framework for a weak story but entertaining evening.

Under the stars at Starlight Theatre this week only, the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner adapted live stage musical, “The Bodyguard” opened Tuesday, Aug. 8 on a beautiful evening to a sparse crowd of enthusiasts hoping to enjoy an evening of Houston’s hits.

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Stellar vocal performances came from the two leading ladies, Deborah Cox & Jasmin Richardson. Both possessed the crystal clear voices so similar to Whitney Houston. Both unleashed the passion and love in her touching ballads and when singing as a duo, the result was absolutely amazing. The ladies were the only vocal strength of the show, but c’mon, it’s all about Houston’s majestic voice and the story serves as a way to encompass her hits.

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If a male sang in the show, it’s completely forgettable. And the dancing was not-showstopping as would be expected in a national tour. Several times the dance ensemble was not in step but spotlights, flash and dash cover mistakes. While to most the production numbers looked good, to this reviewer, they looked tired and not in sync. Overall, the dancing looked like a dress rehearsal and not sharp, show quality.

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As for the story, weak best describes the story. The passion never builds as was expected, and the love story just seems to happen too suddenly. The leads go from dislike to in love in just a few silly scenes and neither actor or actress receives a chance to build his/her character. That is the sad part. The actors never get the chance to spread their wings and let their acting talents drive the show. The show depends solely on the vocal performances of the two female leads.

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The sets, costumes, staging, lighting, props, and technical aspects of the show create a package worth taking the time to see and appreciate. The script just leaves the cast with nothing to develop. The story of the sister is mentioned briefly but never fully expanded. The love triangle is never expanded or milked for drama. The villain has maybe 50 words in the entire show, so his evil and character only become reported dialogue among others. What a waste to create a villain who does not strike terror and fear into the audience. Perhaps the idea works in a smaller, indoor venue, but in Starlight’s vast amphitheater, the villainy is lost.

For Whitney Houston fans the evening succeeds…especially the encore. Do not leave after curtain calls. The best of the evening awaits. The encore gets the audience off their seats, clapping, singing along, and dancing in the aisles. It’s the best part of the show.

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Give Rich Baker credit for trying to get the audiences engaged these past two seasons. He’s pulled in all national tours and dropped the idea of producing home grown shows at Starlight. Baker is trying to find the key to unlock Starlight’s past glory days. Give him credit. Filling Starlight’s vast seating without famous names remains a challenge. Broadway does not produce Shirley Joneses, Ethyl Mermans, Angela Lansburys, Carol Burnetts, Carol Channings or their male counterparts anymore. Road shows do not have star power, and, current shows do not garner the attention as many of the big Broadway hits. Shows like “South Pacific,” “Showboat,” “A Chorus Line,” “Les Mizerables,” “Miss Saigon,” “Damn Yankees,” “Hello, Dolly!” do not draw like they did in the past. And, how many times does the public want such shows offered? Baker faces obstacles, but Starlight’s last two seasons show promise.

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“The Bodyguard” entertains its targeted audience. The problem remains that audience is not in Kansas City and ticketing will be weak. Sadly, the show does not generate the enthusiasm to fill seats. Still, listening and seeing the show brings back the dynamic voice of Whitney Houston and the tragic memory of her fall from superstardom to suicide.

Tags: Starlight Theatre, “The Bodyguard”, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City Music

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