Deborah Cox still has the pipes.
The R&B diva of "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" fame proved that she retains the goods in a touring musical adaptation of the 1992 Whitney Houston smash "The Bodyguard."
Cox capped an evening of beautiful, emotive singing by rising like a deity on a podium at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis and belting the show's biggest number, "I Will Always Love You."
With soul-stirring power and dramatic authority, she infused her own spirit into that well-known song, even as her phrasing and diction invited comparison to Houston.
Houston sang the definitive version of that Dolly Parton composition while starring as soul-diva-in-danger Rachel Marron in the 1992 film "The Bodyguard" opposite Kevin Costner, as former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer.
Rachel is threatened by a demented stalker. Frank's protection of her leads to an entanglement of hearts. The script, adapted for the stage by Alexander Dinelaris, enlarges the role of The Stalker (a truly scary Jorge Paniagua) and makes other tweaks.
But while adding songs, Dinelaris shies away from character development in his book, which often is inert and weak. In strongly crafted musicals, the action and music build on each other to push the story along, ramp up the tension and deliver small climaxes. Here, we often have a song for its own sake.
Of course, that didn't hurt the ABBA-drenched "Mamma Mia!" Producers of "The Bodyguard," which premiered in London in 2012 and launched a national tour last month (this is the second stop), are counting on folks forgiving everything else because of the music from the best-selling soundtrack of all time.
As Frank, Judson Mills is stone-faced until late in the show, like an emotionless automaton. On the other hand, Jasmin Richardson, who plays Rachel's ignored sister, Nicki, shows her heart early, and invites us into her small journey as she finds hope and heartbreak in numbers such as "Saving All My Love for You" and "All at Once." Richardson matches Cox's vocal power with a gorgeous range.
The show also includes a good dose of cuteness in the form of Kevelin B. Jones III as Rachel's son, Fletcher. His "Jesus Loves Me" was charming.
"Bodyguard" feels haunted — or blessed, take your pick — by the spirit of Houston, who died Feb. 11, 2012, ten months before the show first bowed. That may be because this production, directed efficiently but without much flair by Thea Sharrock, feels more like a tribute concert than a musical.
Look at the evidence: Of the 16 musical numbers, nine were added for the stage version, including "Saving All My Love," "All at Once" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." Notice a pattern? All nine are from Houston's catalog.
But who's complaining? Certainly not Wednesday's capacity crowd, which stood and clapped along for the encore, their enthusiasm telling Cox and company that they had done the late diva proud.
Rohan Preston 612-673-4390 Twitter: @rohanpreston