Written by Blake Blackmon
Images courtesy of Springer Opera House
Friday September 23rd marks the exciting opening of The Bodyguard at the Springer Opera House. Audience members will likely be familiar with the 1992 Whitney Houston film, but one thing director Keith McCoy wants them to keep in mind is: the play is not about Whitney Houston; however it is scored by her music. The production features several of the singer’s hit songs including some also included in the film such as, “Queen of The Night,” and, “I Will Always Love You,” but also includes other hits not in the film like the classic, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” among others. I had the privilege of sitting down with McCoy to discuss his artistic vision for the show along with what audiences can expect. I think he summed it up best when he said: “I like to think of the show as a rollercoaster ride because we start intense and we end intense.” Read below for the full interview.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What were you most excited about when you found out you would be directing The Bodyguard?
A: It’s a really great script. I really enjoyed figuring out how to pull more out of the script than what was already there. I feel like there is so much story told in silence and those in between moments, which always excite me. I'm also a huge Whitney Houston fan. This production really feels like a celebration of her music. You really get to hear her catalog of music and remember the gift that she as an artist gave to us which is so special. People forget that what artists do is for us and for our entertainment and to make our lives a little bit more enjoyable. This is a great reminder for people to hear her music and remember that it really was a gift that was given to us.
Q: What if any influence from the movie did you use for your stage interpretation?
A: Well the funny thing about it is I haven't watched the movie since about 1994. But, I'm familiar with it. Really, I always rely on the script and I feel like the script gives you everything you need and you can build your world from there. I'm willing to bet there might be similarities, but I purposefully didn't watch the movie in order to have a fresh take on it. We try to make something that will be our own, and I think that we have accomplished that in a great kind of way.
Q: What do you think specifically makes it your own?
A: The script gives you so much story, but there are characters in the show that you really don't get backstory on, so what I've done is played with the music and the scenes in a way so that you see other people’s stories happening while this big song is happening. With the tour and the script, the songs build out of the scenes, but I didn’t feel like they necessarilly went hand in hand. Some of the songs start in this intimate setting like sitting at a piano and just singing. What I wanted to do was to turn each song into a performance, so we see her start off sitting at a piano and then from there she’s on stage in a gown. Part of my thought process behind that was that the whole show is leading up to The Oscars.
People who are nominated for The Oscars have to campaign and go on all these tours. So what I've done with each song is treat them as if she's out campaigning for her Oscar. For example, there's a song that takes place in a karaoke bar. In the original production that's where the song begins and ends, but with our production you see it start in the karaoke bar, but then you see it growing and growing, and whereas before she was in jeans, now shes on stage in a evening gown with backup singers. That's one of the major differences, taking the songs and turning them into something much bigger.
Q: That must be a quick change for the actress playing Rachel!
A: You have no idea. That one’s not that bad. The one at the end of the show though, she’s singing “I will always love you,” and she’s in regular clothes and then keeping in the true fashion of what I’ve been trying to create, it turns into a huge performance. I think she has 22 seconds to make a change from a casual outfit into a full blown gown. And when I say the gown is extravagant, it's not like take this off and put this on. The dress is very extravagant. It gives you all the drama that you want.
That makes me think, with costumes and set how much are you involved? What does that process look like?
I talk to Alex, our costume designer, about my vision, what I see happening and the glam I want. So then he gets to work and creates sketches and shows me them so we sit and we collaborate on that. That’s one of the things I love about this process too, we’re talking about Alex and collaborating with him, but it’s like that with everyone, from collaborating with the scenic designer to the musical director. I love collaborating with people because I truly believe no one person could do this by themselves and you need a team. This production team I would take with me anywhere.
But yeah, we sit and talk about these things and I think Rachel has 28 costume changes. And that’s just her. It’s a cast of 24, so there’s quite a few costumes. Alex did an amazing job. What he’s done with these costumes is just above and beyond, and I think audiences are going to be very pleased. And with what Matt has done with the set works so well. It's a nice blend of concert but then we have walls that come in and all of a sudden you’re in the house or a karaoke bar or in some small swanky little club. I think people are going to be very surprised.
Q: How might characters differ from the movie?
A: The sister plays a different role than in the movie. I won’t give too much away, but audiences can expect a different turn of events. I also just wanted to make sure to not paint Nicki, the sister, as just this bitter, angry and selfish person.
To paint her story more fully, I’ve given her things to do during songs. I’ve found moments to give her and Frank to show how her feelings develop for him and that she is warranted those feelings, whereas in the movie they seemingly arise out of nowhere. She’s watching her sister live out her dream, and at the end of the day she just wants someone to love. I think showing more of her paints a character that audiences can have a bit more empathy towards. People can look at her and recognize that she’s a real human being. I do that with every character, even the stalker to some degree although he’s a little, okay maybe a lot, unhinged.
Q: What are some themes from the show that you really wanted to convey?
A: One big thing I think with this show is that everybody wants somebody to love. They want someone to come home to at night, and know that they're going to be there. The main character Rachel wants it. Frank, the bodyguard, wants it. Nicki wants it. Even the stalker wants it. Everybody is in search of love, and I really wanted to pull that out of the script.
I also talk to the cast about how everybody in the show has a “bodyguard”. That “bodyguard” is protecting them from being hurt emotionally. I was telling them that there’s a song in the production called, “Run To You,” and I feel like it sums up every character’s motivation in the show. There’s a lyric in the song that says, “Each day I play the role of someone always in control, but at night I come home and turn the key. There’s no one there, no one who cares for me. What’s the sense of trying to live your dreams without someone to share it with. Tell me what does it mean.” That’s what it comes down to.
I think about how I can touch my audience, and it's that lyric right there. That’s it. We all want to come home at night and share life with a significant other. I hope audiences come and they realize a level of appreciation for that person in their life.
Q: What should our local audience expect when they come see the show?
A: It gives a little bit of everything. There's suspense, drama and comedy. And then you have romance and great singing, great dancing, which just makes for a great night of theater. Again, we start at a high point and it doesn’t slow down. They’ll be in for a fast paced ride, so they better buckle up!
If You Go:
What: The Bodyguard
When: September 23rd - October 9th
Where: Springer Opera House