R&B diva Deborah Cox takes on ‘The Bodyguard’
Most performers would shudder at the task of tackling the iconic role of Rachel Marron, a character portrayed legendarily by Whitney Houston in the 1992 movie The Bodyguard. After all, the film is probably better remembered for its wildly popular soundtrack and for its co-stars or plot. Following in Houston’s startlingly tall stilettos as the diva in need of security is a daunting task … especially for a musical stage version like the one opening this week at Fair Park Music Hall (then moving to Bass Hall in Fort Worth).
As luck would have it, though, R&B chart-topper Deborah Cox — herself a queen of the night — was up for the challenge.
“I think [North Texas] is going to be surprised,” Cox says of the national tour, which she’s headlining. “In every city that we’ve gone into, I think people have a preconception of what [the musical] is because of the film. But I think the show is a lot more of a thriller and a love story. [It’s] different than the film.”
In his stage adaptation of the movie, book writer Alexander Dinelaris enhances the roles of Marron, her sister, and even the stalker. The story dives deeper into Marron’s personal relationships and explores a resulting love triangle. And from a musical perspective, the stage version offers something different from the film as well.
“We [incorporate] songs from some of Whitney’s early catalog in the show, like ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody,’ ‘How Will I Know’ and ‘The Greatest Love of All,’ which weren’t in the movie,” Cox explains. “I think these songs help to propel the story. People get a much bigger production than I think they feel they will get when they go in.”
Interestingly, Cox’s favorite moment in the show (which she admits can change from time to time) is performing one of these songs. That moment is one that closely parallels Cox’s personal life — like Rachel, Cox is a working mother.
“‘The Greatest Love of All’ is a moment when you really get to see Rachel pour her heart out about her maternal love for her son,” Cox says. “You see her the most relaxed in that scene. She’s just her true self. She’s just a mother … a woman who has a very demanding career. And you see her at a really vulnerable time.”
Cox, best known in gay circles for the popular clubland remixes of her 1998 single “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here,” has been an LGBT favorite for years. The diva has been a staple performer at circuit parties, fundraisers and Pride events (as well as starring in the 2013 revival of Jekyll & Hyde, which also played in Dallas). Cox recently appeared in Dallas to perform at the 2016 Black Tie Dinner, and the singer is quick to credit the LGBT community for her success.
“Oh my gosh!” she exclaims. “I would say that the gay fans have probably been the most loyal in the sense that when I came out with the first album, the base was there. But when I did the remixes, and when I started to perform in Aida and do other things like my jazz album, it was almost like the LGBTQ audience understood me as an artist more than ever. They understood this was not just about being pigeonholed. It was me being my authentic self. I think the gay community tapped into that first. It’s been this amazing marriage.”
Oncea backup singer for Celine Dion, Cox released her self-titled debut album in 1995. The lead single from the album was “Sentimental,” and the singer vividly remembers the first time she heard it on the airwaves. Cox had just returned from touring overseas and was driving on an L.A. freeway. Hearing her song on the radio was such a surprise that she “nearly swerved off the road.” A year later, Cox was nominated for an American Music Award for Favorite New Artist. It was then she first felt that she had made it as a performer.
“I lost to D’Angelo,” Cox recalls, “but I just remember that moment… my peers at the time and the people I was nominated with. They were also people I listened to myself and was a fan of. When I saw my name up there on the screen with all these other people, it moved me. I think that was the moment when I was like, ‘Well, I’ve arrived. If it doesn’t happen after this, I’ll be OK.’”
Despite her numerous professional successes, Cox feels the achievement she is most proud of is having a family. With her husband, she manages a career, businesses and children. The secret to success, it seems, is the constant “juggling act” of striking a careful balance between work and home.
“At the end of the day, I have three beautiful children,” Cox, who resides in Florida, says. “I have a family. Ultimately, the career is amazing and I’m doing what I want to do. But when I see their accomplishments and when I see them do things for the first time, that’s the part that gets me. That’s what I feel most proud of.”
On June 30, Cox released “Let the World Be Ours Tonight,” a new single she recorded last year but was holding until the right moment came along. Cox had earlier in March released I Will Always Love You, an 8-track EP in homage to Whitney Houston and The Bodyguard project. But after collecting a number of anthemic dance remixes for the single and getting pressure from her fans during Pride appearances, Cox decided to release it as well.
“It’s finally done now and ready for the world to hear,” Cox says of the single. “I think it’s an amazing message. I am now in the business of doing message music. Now it has to have even more meaning. I want to put something positive in the world. It’s my mission.”
Indeed, Ms. Cox. Mission accomplished.
— Scott Huffman
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 14, 2017.