Editor’s note: In the wake of the high-school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last week, singer/actress Deborah Cox is unable to perform at Tuesday night’s opening performance of “The Bodyguard The Musical” at The Bushnell. Cox will perform as planned for the rest of the show’s Hartford run. Understudy Jasmin Richardson will perform the role of superstar Rachel Marron on Tuesday.
What’s it like to star in the first U.S. tour of musical “The Bodyguard”?
For Deborah Cox, who’ll play the role of Rachel Marron — made famous by Whitney Houston — when the musical plays The Bushnell Feb. 20 to 25, the word is “serendipitous.”
“I worked with Whitney Houston,” the Canadian actress and pop star says in a recent phone interview. “We were label-mates. When I was growing up in Toronto, she was the first black female vocalist I had heard. She was definitely an influence on me. I thought ‘I want to sing just like that.’
“But the biggest part of this show for me is that it’s based on a film I watched over and over again growing up. It’s a thrill ride. I love action films. I love romantic comedies. Being part of the action is really fun.”
In the 1992 movie, superstar performer Rachel Marron has been receiving death threats. She hires a professional bodyguard, Frank Farmer (played in the movie by Kevin Costner) to protect her. She doesn’t like his methods. He doesn’t like her attitude. They fall in love.
“The Bodyguard” was turned into a stage musical in 2012 but it took four years to make it to the United States, following nearly two years in London’s West End, tours of the UK, Ireland and Monaco, non-English productions in the Netherlands, Germany and Korea and even a second stint in London.
The U.S. tour has been on the road for more than a year and is scheduled to end in April. The same lead performers have been with the tour since it began: Cox as Marron; Judson Mills (who played Francis Gage on “Walker, Texas Ranger”) as Farmer; Jasmin Richardson (from some memorable Clinique Cosmetics ads) as Rachel’s sister Nicki; Jorge Paniagua as the stalker; Jonathan Hadley as music producer Sy Spector; Charles Gray as Rachel’s manager; Alex Corrado as the bodyguard Farmer is replacing; and Sebastian Maynard-Palmer and Kevelin B. Jones III alternating as Rachel’s young son Fletcher. There are more than a dozen performers handling all the other roles and dances.
Cox hadn’t done the show before being asked to star in this tour. She says that when it was offered to her, she took part in readings for the the director and creative team.
“I don’t mind auditioning. I’m the kind of artist of the mindset where I want to earn every role. And this one is a dream role for me — it has everything I could have dreamed of.”
“This show has some of the most iconic songs ever. ‘I’m Every Woman,’ ‘I Will Always Love You’… There are 10 songs, a lot of big musical numbers, some really big dance numbers. There’s more dancing than I’ve ever done in any show. It’s an emotional roller coaster ride. It’s a very physical role.”
“Surprisingly,” Cox says, “there are people coming to the musical who haven’t ever seen the film. That’s fine. You don’t need to have seen the movie.”
There are a few differences, she says. “Because the stalker character is more prevalent, there’s a lot of projection work — you feel Rachel Marron’s danger. There are also a lot of different musical styles. There’s a salsa number, hip-hop, jazz. There are huge visual effects. The design is really beautiful. The lighting is exceptional.”
Like another music-soaked romance movie of a quarter-century ago, “Dirty Dancing,” “The Bodyguard” launched a successful national tour without bothering to be seen on Broadway first. “We would love for it to have a limited run on Broadway,” Cox says. “We’re so proud of it.”
Another distinction is that unlike so many musicals drawn from romantic movies, this one isn’t a comedy. It’s an action-packed suspense thriller, with Frank fending off death threats and stalkers so Rachel can dress up in lavish costumes and sing “Queen of the Night,” “All the Man That I Need,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and all those other songs that are worth hiring a bodyguard to protect.
THE BODYGUARD comes to the The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, Feb. 20 to 25. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 to $119. 860-987-5900 and bushnell.org.