*After having been compared vocally to the film’s original star for her entire professional career, R & B star and Broadway legend Deborah Cox has decided to take the comparison head-on.
She has been touring the country — and earning rave reviews — in the lead role in The Bodyguard musical, which was first introduced to audiences via film in 1991.
Cox has also just released I Will Always Love You, an exceptionally well-sung collection of covers including anthems, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and “The Greatest Love Of All.”
Fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Cox has done the legend justice, and in a couple of cases, her versions actually improve upon the originals.
Her brilliant recreation of “The Greatest Love Of All” features an acoustic arrangement paired with her heartfelt, understated vocal. Similarly, Cox’s “Run To You,” from The Bodyguard, gives her a chance to really stretch out and blow listeners away not just with vocal pyrotechnics but with her sincere, passionate reading of the lyric.
I had to ask Cox where she got to guts to cover “The Voice.”
“I think the courage to do those songs came from literally being constantly faced with the comparison…all of my professional life.” Cox warmly shared by phone. “I finally decided to stop fighting it. People know what Whitney means to me, what her music meant to me, and there are a lot of similarities in tonality, in nuances. In recording the songs, I tried to recreate the essence…”
Having heard the new album, I’m not worried at all about Cox’s performance in the new play. Based on the 1991 feature film, The Bodyguard musical tells the story of former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard, Frank Farmer, who is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron from an unknown stalker. Each expects to be in charge; what they don’t expect is to fall in love.
Of the new production, Cox says she’s been taken aback by the reaction of those in its standing-room-only audiences.
“It’s really taken us by surprise. I think fans really didn’t know what to expect,” Cox said. “People are really genuinely caught off guard by the way they feel about the music and bringing the essence of an idol’s legacy to this show. The Bodyguard was a beloved movie and soundtrack, so it’s really amazing to see people’s faces light up when they hear certain songs.”
“It’s really not your regular Broadway show,” Cox continued. “It’s very, very thrilling. It’s suspenseful. It’s got a lot of heart, it’s got a lot of romance, and it’s got a lot of music, so I think people are sort of transported back to the 80s, to that time. We break the fourth wall a lot and engage directly with the audience, and people seem to really enjoy the show, even posting about it online well after they’ve seen it. Audience reactions have been really fun to see, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Cox wants to let fans know that this role is more than just a job for her.
“This is the hardest role of my career, singing, dancing, acting — everything is so hugely overwhelming. But I welcome the challenge because I have a passion for her music, and I’m a fan as well. I’d have been mad if I’d heard it done and it wasn’t done right! I wanted it to be done with integrity, with honor, and with the true essence of …fans. So that’s why I decided to take the role on.”
In taking a look at some of the new production’s promotional footage, I couldn’t help but notice that while Cox’s formidable pipes grace the songs, she actually outperforms the idol in the dance department. As well as the icon could sing, we all know she sometimes had two left feet when she tried to dance with someone who loved her!
“She’d have said the same thing,” Cox laughed upon hearing the comparison. “What was awesome about [her] was that she knew that, and she knew she could be onstage with any and everybody and it wouldn’t dim her light. That was what was so special about her. Not a lot of artists allow you to be the full essence of who you are while you’re on stage with them. There’s always ego involved, but [she] had no ego like that.”
I wrapped our chat up by asking Cox what the icon herself might think of this new production and Cox’s portrayal of Rachel Marron.
“She would be completely supportive,” Cox reflected. “She’d be like ‘Go ahead, girl.’ She was always very encouraging. Every time she pulled me up onstage and we sang together, it was always ‘go ahead and let your light shine.’ That was the person she was, and for that I am honored and grateful to have had those moments with her, and to be a part of this production.”
Details on The Bodyguard musical and Cox’s new album are at deborahcox.com
***This feature was revised from its original publication***