By Seth Reines, December 2017 Issue.
Deborah Cox is best known for her double platinum “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here,” which held the record for the longest running No. 1 R&B Single for 14 consecutive weeks, but Grammy-nominated, multiplatinum R&B/pop star has been hard at work reimaging the work of another legendary artist this year.
Judson Mills as Frank Farmer and Deborah Cox as Rachel Marrron in The Bodyguard.
As part of The Bodyguard, the musical’s national tour, Cox was cast as Rachel Marron, the film role originated by Whitney Houston.
And she will be bringing some of Houston’s biggest hits, including “How Will I Know,” “Run to You,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “I Will Always Love You,” to the stage at ASU Gammage from Nov. 28 to Dec. 3.
Based on the 2012 London West End hit, the show is a perfect vocal fit for Cox whose voice has often been compared to that of Houston.
In making the role of Rachel her own, Cox said she had to rethink all the songs and that required reading the lyrics only. Not referencing the originals.
“It’s been a process through which I’ve been able to discover new things and find new meanings in the songs,” she said. “I can’t say definitively what I bring because every audience and every show is different. I strive to be authentic in each moment. The challenge is to tell Rachel’s story while simultaneously being in concert and diva mode. I also approach the singing of these songs a little differently in places.”
Cox made her Broadway debut as Aida in the musical by Elton John and Tim Rice. In 2013, she again starred on Broadway as Lucy in Jekyll & Hyde opposite Constantine Maroulis and as legendary Josephine Baker in Josephine at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Spring of 2016. But according to her, this role is different.
“This is a dream role,” Cox said. “To be portraying such a strong, complex woman and singing these incredibly iconic songs is truly the best part! I also get to dance and be larger than life, especially in the opening and closing numbers.”
Deborah Cox as Rachel Marron with Jaquez André Sims, Brendon Chan, Willie Dee and Benjamin Rivera in The Bodyguard.
Cox began singing TV commercials at the age of 12 and went on to perform in nightclubs as a teenager. She started her recording career as a background singer with Celine Dion before signing her first recording contract with Clive Davis of Arista Records.
“Every night I find myself reminiscing of my times growing up ‘trying’ to tackle some of these songs,” Cox reminisced. “Then at the stage door, people’s comments inspire me. People are coming back multiple times within the week. They are being touched by the show and that is humbling and rewarding for me.”
Cox has been recognized for her longstanding commitment to the LGBTQ community, for which she has earned awards spanning from the New York State Senate Civil Rights Award in 2007 to the Liberty Bell and Proclamation for Philadelphia LGBTQ Pride Day in 2016.
According to Cox, she first realized that she had a strong LGBTQ following during a Pride weekend in New York City.
“I was standing on a huge stage at Palladium at 5:30 in the morning and I was looking at a sea of gay men,” she recalled. “That was the moment when I realized that this is something that is not ever going to change. It’s something that is going a part of my life and part of my legacy forever.”
During this year’s Pride season, she released a new dance single “Let the World Be Ours Tonight,” which reached No. 1 on the dance chart.
“We’ve been on this journey together for a long time and I thank you for your support over all these years,” was the message she had for her LGBTQ fans. “Continue to be bold, brave and strong. We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet.”
For Pride Month 2017, Billboard asked pop culture icons to write “love letters” to the LGBTQ community. Here is Cox’s moving letter to us:
Once, a makeup artist told me he was afraid to come out. His parents didn’t understand that he was born that way and they made him an outcast in his family. This is not an unfamiliar story --many even consider suicide.
I’ve been told my music has helped to empower people who are struggling. Songs like “Absolutely Not” have given them the courage to be themselves. Most of the fans tell me that my music has been the soundtrack of their lives, and they have been brave to face their families who shame them.
My passion is and always has been the LGBTQ youth — the ones that have a hard time coming out, being bullied, that kind of thing. Helping them get their point across and really be heard. Stopping the stigma, stopping the bullying, and raising awareness to the mainstream that being gay and being a lesbian — it’s not going anywhere. We must learn to live together.
Nov. 28-Dec. 3
1200 S. Forest Ave., Tempe
Tickets: $20-$150; 480-965-3434