Deborah Cox Talks The Bodyguard, Being Inspired by Whitney Houston and Balancing R&B and BroadwayGetty Images Theatre Features
She might be best known for her smash single “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here”, but according to Deborah Cox, she’s exactly where she’s meant to be. After over a decade of balancing careers as a recording artist and stage sensation, she’s currently touring the nation as the star of the stage version of “The Bodyguard”, stepping into the starring role made famous by her personal inspiration, Whitney Houston. Cox took time out of her insane schedule to chat about introducing this classic story to new generations, the similarities between her two distinct careers, and staying true to Whitney Houston’s legacy.
Paste:: You’d already established yourself as a top-selling recording artist when you made your debut in Aida in 2005. Was finding your way to Broadway a longtime goal, or did the opportunity come out of left field?
Cox: It was actually a bit of both. A lot of people don’t know that I started in musical theater and I had done a lot of productions before I had a recording deal. Once I got my record deal, things took off and I was touring the world and recording and I just continued to record, but I never got back into musical theater. Once I was approached about doing Aida, that was when it just kind of reignited that whole thing again, and I began to do two things simultaneously, which was record and also find roles that I could either step into on Broadway or, you know, roles that would be intriguing for me to do. Aida came along and Josephine Baker’s story came along and Jekyll and Hyde… these real interesting projects came along the way and so now I find myself here [starring in The Bodyguard] and this kind of cross-pollinates both worlds because this role includes a lot of what I do essentially as a recording artist. It’s kind of okay to do that in this role because Rachel Marron is a recording star.
Paste: A show like this carries unique expectations from those who love the story from seeing the film version. How heavy is fan expectation to stay faithful to what they’ve seen on big and small screens?
Cox: In my mind, the goal is always been to continue to capture the essence of what was in the film and bring that to the stage. When you talk about the portrayal of one of the most iconic women in music history, there’s expectation of how these songs are going to be sung. I understand that and know that and have a great amount of respect and reverence for it, from the music and the piece.
People know my intentions of taking on this role and it’s purely to be authentic and bring the essence of what she brought to music to the live stage. I know there’s only one Whitney, and we’ll never be able to capture that, but certainly I could go in and find the essence of it, and tell the story in a different medium.
Paste: As a seasoned stage performer, how does the energy level and overall experience of starring in a scripted show differ from headlining one of your concerts?
Cox: I think I bring the same energy level. For me, a performance is a performance whether it’s being in a Broadway show or being in a concert. It’s the same level of intense singing. My own songs like Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here are in a very demanding range as well, so it’s not that much different outside of the fact that I’m telling a story and acting it, part of it so I’ve got to make sure that I am telling the story true to that. I do a lot more dancing in this show though.
I feel like this role is a bit of both worlds, my world and the Broadway world. This show in its entirety is not like any other Broadway show I’ve ever done or even seen before. I’d say it’s a romantic thriller. It’s a suspenseful thriller. There’s a lot of moments where we break the fourth wall where the audience is included in the show and they’re a part of the scene. You’ll feel like you’re in a stadium watching a show and then you’ll feel like you’re sitting at the Oscars. The storytelling is really done very well, especially in the way that they bring the songs in and out of scenes.
Paste:You obviously have a special place in your heart for this show. What was your preparation process like in the days and weeks leading up to it?
Cox: I feel like I’ve had a lifetime of preparation. Whitney’s music was a huge part of my upbringing and so I feel like a lot of the tonality and the nuances and the timbre of my voice is very similar and I know why that’s part of the reason why people love to hear me sing her music and those songs, so that part I honor.
I feel also like this is great opportunity to bring this to a brand new audience in a brand new, in a different way.
At the time that this movie came out, I was right in the middle of shopping for my own record deal. I was touring with Celine Dion and doing a lot of traveling. It was right around the time that I got a meeting with Clive Davis, and it was that meeting that changed my career. He signed me and we’ve had the opportunity to have hit records, and so I’ve had a great career because of this path. I feel like everything happens for a reason and this is destiny playing itself out,without getting too deep.
Paste: The Bodyguard is in the midst of a massive tour throughout the US. Do you enjoy taking a show to different cities, as opposed to being cemented in one area for its duration?
Cox: For me, that’s the fun part. It’s like we’re just bringing this to a whole new audience every night… a whole new generation, even. There’s a lot of people who hadn’t seen the film so they find themselves going back to it or going to listen to the music again. I think it’s a real great opportunity to continue informing the audiences of just how great this music was. If they know the songs, it lets them take a trip down memory lane and remember where they were and what inspired them when they heard this music.