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Icon Squared: Deborah does Bodyguard

Deborah Cox chats about The Bodyguard in Atlanta, and how one gay icon plays a role made famous by another.

By Jim Farmer

Her career as a recording artist has kept her busy the last few decades, but gay icon Deborah Cox has never been one to restrict herself to one medium. She cut her Broadway teeth way back in 2004 with the Elton John-Tim Rice musical “Aida” on Broadway, and has been featured in stage and films roles since.

So when the producers of the U.S. national tour of The Bodyguard contacted Cox about taking on the lead role, she quickly jumped aboard.

“I was told about the show a number of years ago as they were developing it,” Cox tells David Atlanta. “I read the script and loved it – the storytelling, how they ejected new material and songs. I thought it would be a great role to allow me to sing, dance and act. It’s not often that a role like this comes along.”

The Bodyguard is, of course, based on the 1992 Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner film about an actress being stalked and the bodyguard hired to protect her. It was a monster commercial success and its soundtrack – which includes “I’m Every Woman,” “I Have Nothing,” “Queen of the Night,” “Run to You” and Houston’s signature take on “I Will Always Love You” – snagged the Grammy Award as well for Best Album and is still one of the biggest selling of all time.

Some changes do distinguish the film and the musical version, most notably the depth of the central characters.

“(In the film), you didn’t get much of a backstory on Rachel’s sister Nicki and how complex the triangle is between those two and (bodyguard) Frank,” Cox says. “Here you get to understand Rachel’s complexity as a mother and you see the relationship between her and her son Fletcher. She is guarded. Fletcher is her world, and she is very protective of him.”

Although The Bodyguard is still a love story, the stalker is much more prevalent in the stage version.

With Houston so entrenched in people’s minds as Rachel, Cox knew she didn’t want to replicate her. As such, she decided not to watch the film again or even re-visit the music.

“I wanted to be myself with it,” she says. “That is the beauty about being able to bring things to a new medium and audience. You get to explore showing a new perspective to the character. Not watching the movie again has served me as an actor in being able to tell the story from the words on the page.”

The late singer was a huge inspiration to Cox, who grew up listening to Houston’s music. When they were label mates, Houston was also a mentor.

“Her music means a lot, not just to me but everybody. I think when people hear the music in the show it reminds them of a special time when her music was all over the airwaves.”

Cox, who has performed in Atlanta often, including a memorable closing-night performance at Atlanta Pride that brought down the house with pitch-perfect vocals, is proudly aware of her gay fan base.

“A lot of people have told me I’m the soundtrack of their lives, and they’ve come out to it,” she says. “My music has struck a chord with people emotionally; they can feel free. Back when I was doing a lot of circuit parties, that resonated in the community, that I was not ashamed to go into those places where there was no other place for people to be themselves.

“It started early on in my career, in the early ‘90s – this love affair with the LGBT community,” she adds. “There’s been a tremendous amount of support there. I don’t ever forget that. We have been hand-in-hand the whole time.”

By now, Cox is used to seeing drag queens do impersonations of her, most often of the megahit “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here.”

“It’s so flattering to see a drag queen doing you,” she laughs. “I think it’s the ultimate homage.”

The Bodyguard runs at the Fox Theatre March 28 – April 2. Visit foxtheatre.org

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