She was friends with Whitney Houston, recorded with her and provided the singing voice for the lead character in the 2015 TV movie “Whitney.”
Now Deborah Cox, a hitmaking dance diva, is starring in the first U.S. tour of the musical “The Bodyguard,” based on the popular 1992 movie starring Houston and Kevin Costner. The musical features songs from the blockbuster soundtrack — the bestselling soundtrack album of all time — plus other tunes from Houston’s catalog, including “So Emotional” and “Saving All My Love.”
The musical premiered in London in 2012 but just arrived in the United States last month in Millburn, N.J. The Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, where the show opens Tuesday, will be the second stop on a nearly yearlong tour.
The Toronto-bred, Miami-based Cox, 42, has enjoyed a successful R&B career of her own. Her “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” topped Billboard’s dance charts for 14 weeks in 1998, one of her 12 No. 1 dance hits. She also appeared on Broadway in the musicals “Aida” and “Jekyll & Hyde” and acted in a few movies.
She called from Florida while on holiday break with her three kids and husband/manager.
On her friendship with Houston:
They both recorded for Clive Davis’ Arista Records and met at one of his famous pre-Grammys parties in the mid-1990s.
“She just embraced me, a complete rookie,” Cox said of her hero. “My album had just come out and she came over and said, ‘Congratulations, girl!’ She was really supportive. She was like a mentor, and she hipped me to a lot of things in the business. Gave me a lot of personal advice. There was a real sisterhood that we shared.”
The best advice?
“To have balance in my life. To have children. I can’t be all one thing. I can’t be all career.”
On recording her duet “Same Script Different Cast” in 2000 with Houston:
After rescheduling sessions because she was on a cruise with her family, Houston showed up at the recording studio and kicked off her shoes. Suddenly, Cox found herself face to face with her greatest inspiration, not an uppity superstar who could have insisted on recording separately and letting the producer pull together the performances.
“At first, I was in awe,” Cox said. “Second, I freaked out. Eventually, I just had to be in the moment. We don’t even have any photos. I was just so present.”
On preparing for “The Bodyguard”:
Cox didn’t bother to watch the movie again because she was very familiar with it. However, the musical is different from the film, she points out, with a more prominent role for the singer’s sister, a love triangle and stalker danger.
“I’ve had a lifetime of preparation,” she explained, since she’d practiced Houston’s songs as a fledgling singer. “So I kind of knew what my approach would be as a vocalist. As for the acting, I had to pull from my whole career as an artist, as a mother, as a businesswoman.”
On trying to own songs that are so identified with Whitney:
“What I have to keep in mind mostly is telling the story. That takes me out of the caricature or doing something other than creating the essence of her.”
On the most challenging song to sing in the musical:
“The hardest is ‘I Will Always Love You,’ ” Cox said. “There are 13 songs in the show, and that song has its own expectations from the audience. And the way it’s staged, I have to not do it like the recording. I have to not do it like Deborah Cox. I can’t do it like Rachel Marron [Houston’s character] in the movie. It’s got to be my own interpretation. It’s a moment when you can hear a pin drop in the theater.”
On being the voice of Houston for the 2015 TV movie “Whitney”:
They were near the end of filming, so director Angela Bassett and music supervisor Dick Rudolph, both friends of Cox’s, called the singer. She flew to Los Angeles and knocked out five songs in one day — because that’s all she had time for.
“The part I had to be cognizant of was to take Deborah out of it and put the essence of Whitney in there. I wanted to capture her phrasing, her warm tone, making sure there was no Auto-Tune because she didn’t use any of that stuff.”
On singing backup for Celine Dion in the early 1990s:
“I learned discipline,” Cox said. “She would not speak for hours before her performance. Sleep is a big part of it. Warming up before the show is a big part of it. And not taking anything for granted.”
Any chance she’ll perform “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” as an encore for “The Bodyguard”?
The show ends with Houston’s smash “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” So how about a medley or mashup of those two big party songs?
“A lot of people have that sentiment that I could bust out with that and it wouldn’t be out of character,” Cox said. But, no, it’s not going to happen, at least not yet.