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'The Bodyguard' review: Whitney Houston's songs almost save the day

Kimber Sprawl takes on Whitney Houston's role in

Kimber Sprawl takes on Whitney Houston's role in "The Bodyguard" at Gateway in Bellport. Photo Credit: Jeff Bellante

WHAT "The Bodyguard"

WHEN | WHERE Through July 20, The Gateway, 215 S. Country Rd., Bellport

INFO $59-$89; 631-286-1133, thegateway.org

BOTTOM LINE Go for the Whitney Houston songs and you'll be happy.

The specter of Whitney Houston hangs heavy over "The Bodyguard," the musical running at The Gateway in Bellport through July 20. The stage version of the 1992 film that marked the iconic singer's first acting role and had the best-selling soundtrack of all time is great entertainment, as long as you ignore everything but the music. Think of the show as a slightly wordy concert celebrating the best of Houston, and you'll have a fine time.

Broadway vet Kimber Sprawl takes on the Houston role of hugely successful pop artist Rachel Marron. She puts her own emotional spin on classics like "The Greatest Love of All," "I Have Nothing" and the iconic "I Will Always Love You" with a powerful set of pipes, though hints of strain sneak in during some of the most demanding vocals (not helped by an erratic sound system).

The musical, on national tour in the past couple years but never on Broadway, expands the part of Rachel’s envious sister, Nicki. An intelligent portrayal by Danea Osseni focuses on the conflict that rages in her heart, while displaying her fine voice with Houston hits like "Saving All My Love for You." The relationship between the sisters is the most interesting part of Alexander Dinelaris' book, based on the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. But, of course, that has to take a backseat to the title character, bodyguard Frank Farmer (Michael Shenefelt, doing a fine job with the Kevin Costner part), who has been hired to protect Rachel after she gets threatening letters from a stalker.

Sadly, the whole thriller thing is implausible from the get-go, with the stalker showing us his every move (cue the creepy music), and security teams missing the most blatant lapses. The alleged love story doesn’t fare much better. You can understand Rachel's utter disdain at having her every move under a microscope, especially when it involves her young son, adorably played by Thomas Deloach. But the zero-to-60 turnaround with Frank ending up in her bed, not so much. There's little for director-choreographer Keith Andrews to do but wait for the next production number.

Fortunately, they come fast, and with crowd-pleasing energy. The opening "Queen of the Night" and especially the sizzling "I'm Every Woman" get the audience going, helped along by Joe Greene's dazzling costumes (the ode to Beyoncé in the first number is smashing). The show follows the "Mamma Mia!" template, ending with a dancers-in-the-aisles megamix featuring "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" that has the audience up and singing along. With such great music, you can probably forgive the rest.

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