SALT LAKE CITY — In 1992, the No. 1 movie at the box office featured an acting debut, a familiar face and the best-selling soundtrack of all time. Originally written in the '70s as a vehicle for Ryan O’Neal and Diana Ross, “The Bodyguard” burst on the scene featuring Whitney Houston in her first big screen appearance alongside Kevin Costner. The film, though embraced marginally by critics, became the second highest-grossing film in 1992.
But it wasn't the nuanced plot line that catapulted the film to cultlike fame — most agree it was the music.
With Houston at the helm, the soundtrack boasts “I’m Every Woman," “I Have Nothing” and “Run to You,” and of course, Houston's cover of Dolly Parton's classic “I Will Always Love You.” The musical stage adaptation, running Dec. 5-10 at the Eccles Theater, features even more Houston hits: “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” “Saving All My Love,” “How Will I Know,” “One Moment in Time” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
“This score has legendary songs — these are songs that you know and have heard,” said Deborah Cox, the performer stepping into Houston’s (very high) shoes in the touring production. “Our audiences have been so responsive because they miss hearing songs like this.”
Cox, who has been with the tour since it opened in January, is fully aware of the shadow cast by Houston.
“I always knew it was going to be a challenge and that people would have great expectations,” she said. “And I think the biggest reward is the reaction by the end of the night. Each moment of applause is respect earned throughout the night.”
And audiences seem more than willing to go along for the ride, thanks in no small part to Cox’s vocal chops.
Cox is a Grammy Award-nominated and multiplatinum R&B recording artist in her own right, having made her Broadway debut in 2004 as Aida in the Elton John and Tim Rice musical “Aida.” The Canadian native won numerous R&B awards, reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts, collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry and has recorded six award-winning, critically acclaimed albums.
“I knew at an early age that I wanted to sing,” Cox said.
She started performing at an early age, attended a performing arts high school and sang in night clubs. But it was singing background vocal for fellow Canadian Celine Dion that gave her the experience she needed to break into her own career.
“That really shaped me as an artist," Cox said. "But musical theater is my favorite — it’s truly a dream job. And the audience has been really responsive, I think, because they miss hearing songs like this — they really come away inspired. It leaves them feeling inspired and uplifted."
The critics seem to agree, giving this musical about a pop diva and her bodyguard more favorable reviews than the original flick.
“It stays pretty close to the original plot,” Cox said. “Rachel’s stalker is more prevalent in this show. There’s an additional love triangle between the bodyguard and Rachel’s sister. I think people will be excited about it. It’s suspenseful — it’s really a romantic thriller onstage. There are moments you’re on the edge of your seat, moments you’ll laugh, cry and be so enthralled in Rachel’s world and everything she’s going through.”
And with everything the character of Rachel is going through, the cast keeps it light backstage by doing nightly "Boomerang" videos posted on the tour's Instagram feed (at thebodyguardus).
"We're a pretty high maintenance cast so we try to have fun and find fun things to do to keep ourselves on course — it's such an intense show," Cox said. "So we dance and we make sure we have sweets and sugar and something to keep us bouncing and having fun."
And, of course, perform Houston's hits night after night.
"We just want to do this music justice," Cox said. "So get ready for a great time."
If you go …
What: "The Bodyguard: The Musical"
When: Dec. 5-10, times vary, matinees available
Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main
How much: $35-$100