Like most young aspiring singers in 1992, Deborah Cox’s life was changed by “The Bodyguard.” The popular film was a success unto itself (though not a critical hit), but it was the soundtrack and lead single, “I Will Always Love You,” that turned it into a phenomenon. The album went on to become the fourth-highest selling album of all time.
For Cox, the movie offered a vision for a career that would incorporate everything she loved.
“The film had a huge impact on me. It was right in the time where I was trying to find my own voice as a musician and artist. It was right around that time when I felt like all the worlds that I wanted to be in collided and came together on this incredible film,” Cox said. “And it had my favorite performer in it as well.”
Whitney Houston was already a superstar, but “The Bodyguard” made her an icon. In addition to the film’s love theme, the movie included hits “I’m Every Woman,” “I Have Nothing” and “Run to You.”
“I remember playing the soundtrack over and over again,” Cox said..
Twenty-five years later, Cox is now living her dream, playing the starring role of Rachel Marron in the stage adaptation of the musical film. The national tour of the show comes to Shea’s Performing Arts Center from Oct. 24 through 29.
The stage show, which premiered in London’s West End in 2012 and has since toured Europe, features songs from the film, plus other hits from Houston’s career, including “So Emotional,” “Saving All My Love” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
This isn’t Cox’s first time on the theatrical stage. She made her Broadway debut in 2004 as the title role in Disney’s “Aida,” and later toured and returned to Broadway in “Jekyll & Hyde.” Following in Houston’s footsteps, Cox said she enjoys getting to marry her musical and acting interests.
“[This is] the most rewarding, grueling and complex role I’ve ever played. It involves everything I love to do: acting, singing and dancing,” she said. “I’m singing these iconic songs, so the pressure is on to perform these with a great amount of excellence. I love helping to create that fantasy for the audience. That’s the challenge, and that’s what I love about it.”
For the Toronto native, Buffalo and Shea’s hold extra meaning. Growing up in Scarborough, just east of downtown Toronto, Cox didn’t find many artists she identified with on the local airways. She remembers her first gospel concert was at Shea’s, Bebe and Cece Winans. “That impacted me so greatly. It was life changing.”
“In Toronto, we didn’t hear a lot of black female artist on the radio. It’s different now, but back in the day, in the early 1990s, you were just getting grunge and rock 'n' roll.” So she made the trip across the border to hear her favorite artists.
“We would go to Buffalo a lot to see a lot of R&B concerts. They wouldn’t come to Toronto, so we made the hike, even though it was freaking cold,” Cox said.
She would eventually play Shea’s for the first time on the “Jekyll & Hyde” tour, which she remembers revisiting fondly. “I love that Shea’s kept its name. I can brag that I once played sold-out shows at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.”
This time around, Cox will be playing the role of a lifetime.
“To fast-forward to this point in my life, where I feel like I’m in a place where I can pick and choose projects I want to be a part of, it’s come full circle. I’m now doing the very show I was inspired by,” she said. “I don’t know what role after this will surpass this, because it really is a dream role. I’m having a great time.”
Performances are Oct. 24-29 at Shea's Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $35-$80 (box office, ticketmaster.com and by calling 800-745-3000).