As a Broadway actress and R&B singer, Deborah Cox has embodied some of the most iconic women in music, theater, and history, from Josephine Baker to Aida. In her latest role, Cox is tasked with not only portraying one of the most beloved characters of modern film, but also marking a separate path from the legendary woman who most famously played her: the late Whitney Houston.
The touring production of The Bodyguard stops at the Arsht Center this week for a six-day run of shows based on the blockbuster 1992 film about the unlikely romance between a famous singer and her bodyguard, originally starring Houston and Kevin Costner.
Like much of Houston's work, the soundtrack to the film was required listening for all aspiring singers. And it continues to be so today. Cox remembers playing the album's songs, including "I Will Always Love You" and "I Have Nothing," on repeat when the film was released. She was a background singer touring with Céline Dion at the time. "I was coming into my own as an artist, trying to figure out what style of music I wanted to do," she remembers.
Cox says her greatest challenge in making the role of Rachel Marron her own was to let go of the weight attached to it and to the songs that the world is used to hearing Houston sing. "The challenge really was unlearning some of the ways the songs were done and letting them tell the story, as opposed to having 'Deborah Cox' perform the song as a recording artist. The easiest thing to do, really, is to just completely strip the songs down and go back to basics and just read the lyrics of the song and tell the story from that perspective... That's helped tremendously, because now I feel like Rachel has her own voice. My Rachel is different from the film but still keeping the essence of what we all know and love about the movie."
Her favorite number to sing in the show every night is "One Moment in Time." "I love the setup of it. It takes place at the Oscars, and it's really a defiant moment where she is going against fear and going against all odds, and Frank Farmer comes in and protects her." Cox says it's this willingness to show vulnerability that makes the Marron character so compelling. It is also an attribute of many roles she's played.
"Characters like Josephine and Rachel and Aida and Lucy [of Jekyll and Hyde], these are all really complex women... You have to tap into your vulnerability, your fears, and your weaknesses in order to bring out the side that's going to help you to overcome all of that fear... It's a bit like walking on a tightrope, where you know you're afraid and you're scared, but you know you've got to just go for it and do it. That's kind of what my approach is whenever I'm dealing with any of these really complex women. The trick is to show their strengths, but the only way to show their strengths is by really facing the vulnerable side."
The Bodyguard. Tuesday, April 2, through Sunday, April 8 at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $29 to $125.
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