Deborah Cox carries the Whitney Houston torch in 'Bodyguard' musical
In 1998, Canadian songstress Deborah Cox released her single, “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here.” The song peaked at number two on the Hot 100 chart and stayed there for eight weeks (R Kelly and Celine Dion’s "I’m Your Angel" and Brandy’s "Have You Ever" were the spoilers). It did stay at the top of the R&B chart for a record breaking 14 weeks—a record that held until 2006.
The song’s success was followed by years of touring, with Cox playing all over the world. She even headlined Nashville Pride in 2010. She remains one of Canada’s most successful R&B artists, if not the most successful.
Now Cox has now joined the cast of the musical adaptation of The Bodyguard. Based on the Whitney Houston classic, the musical premiered in London’s West End back in 2012. It was a huge hit there and was open for just under 2 years.
Ultimately, lack of adequate performance space forced the show into a tour spanning the UK and Ireland. Now in its American debut tour, the show is making a stop in Nashville at TPAC’s Jackson Hall from March 21–March 26.
In preparation for the show’s Nashville run, Cox took some time to answer a few questions from O&AN.
We started off talking about how it feels to take on the iconic character of Rachel Marron, played so famously by Houston.
“It’s thrilling,” Cox admitted. “It’s a complex role, but that allows me to stretch more than I’ve ever stretched before in any other role I’ve ever been in. I know there are huge expectations given the enormity of this role. It’s been a good experience though.”
While taking the role might have been intimidating, Cox admitted that, even as a successful performer, there was an element of fandom that went into her decision to take the role.
“I love the music, the story, the film… I thought it could be cool and dramatic, something very different to see on the stage. I mean, who doesn’t love The Bodyguard?” she asked. “I fell in love with the film. In regards to Whitney Houston, I’ve been a longtime fan. So, I feel blessed to have been chosen. I was asked to do this role about eight years ago, but it wasn’t the right timing and the right situation, so I’m just fortunate that it all worked out this time for me to do it.”
The Bodyguard premiered on the big screen in 1992, right as Deborah Cox was starting to perform. As a young artist, she explained why the movie inspired her so much originally.
“It was right before I was on the scene,” she recalled. “I was doing session work and writing and performing background vocals. And, right around that time, I was doing stuff with Celine Dion. I remember meeting with Clive Davis at the time who had just signed me. I ended up moving out to LA to start demoing … so it was a very interesting time in my life. But when I heard "Run To You" and "I Have Nothing," I was just floored. [The film] was just full of beautifully penned songs, wonderfully executed by the greatest voice of our generation, of all time. From the moment I heard those songs, I was all in.”
Because she loves the original work so much, the mental preparation of this play is something Cox has to focus on. “It’s surreal. I have so many memories of all these songs that I have to take myself out of it from being a fan and force myself into being Rachel Marron and to tell the story from my perspective as Rachel Marron. So, there’s quite a bit going on with me mentally on the stage, but, I think, every night I try to get closer and closer to finding my own, authentic way of telling this story through my voice now”
There have been rumors about this show making its way to Broadway. Hoping to get a little inside information, I asked Cox if she thought that was likely.
“I don’t know what the intention is,” she admitted. “I would hope that it would come to Broadway, but we just don’t know. There’s so many variables. I’m just remaining in the moment and hoping that we can bring this across the country to a new generation. I’ve actually come across people who’ve never seen the film. That’s shocking to me, but it’s the truth!”
I am a little embarrassed to admit—as I did when speaking with Cox—that, as a millennial, I had also missed this movie until preparing for this interview. Cox thinks the story remains compelling and still has something to say to our generation.
“It just brings you back to a time in music where it was very melody and lyric driven. The story is a love story. I mean, who doesn’t love a love story?! And the way this show is done, the way it’s written, the songs help tell the story of the character,” she explained. “The love triangle with the sister and Frank Farmer, you really get a sense of the complexity of Rachel Marron and what she has to do to not show her vulnerability, but continue to show her strength and keeping her guard up. There’s so much that she’s got to deal with… You get to get inside her head with song.”
The original film did not contain all the same songs that are in the play. We discussed that change and what it meant for the modern telling of it, especially after Houston’s passing. Millennials are not always up on Whitney Houston’s work.
Cox hopes that the show will introduce a new generation not only to a film classic but also to a musical ones. “They’ve changed it a lot in the sense that they included the songs from the film, but they’ve also included stuff from earlier [in Houston’s career] like “How Will I Know,” “The Greatest Love of All,” “Saving All My Love For You,” “All At Once”—you’ll hear all of those songs. Millennials don’t know those songs. It was a wonderful time in music. That’s my goal, too: to be a part of the storytelling to the new generation. How else are we going to be able to preserve it? We have to let the new generation carry the torch, to keep passing it on. I think that’s important.”
Deborah Cox will take the stage of Jackson Hall at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in all but two performances (Saturday matinee and Sunday night) to perform Whitney Houston’s classics. Wherever it’s been, it’s been a total smash. You do not want to miss this! Get your tickets at TPAC.com or by calling the TPAC Box office at 615-782-4040. Photo credit: Joan Marcus