Broadway Philadelphia is bringing hit musical “The Bodyguard” to town as part of the show’s first American tour.
Based on the 1992 romantic thriller starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, the play tells the story of a former Secret Service agent turned bodyguard who is hired to protect superstar singer and actor Rachel Marron from a homicidal stalker.
The film was a smash when it debuted, thanks in part to the runaway success of the soundtrack, which featured numerous classic hits by Houston.
The stage adaptation debuted in 2012 at London’s Adelphi Theatre and went on to a number of successful international runs before coming to North America, where the lead role will be played by actor and singer Deborah Cox.
Out actor Jonathan Hadley plays Sy Spector, Rachel’s agent.
“Some of the play has been modified and changed a bit but most of the main characters have remained from the movie,” Hadley explained. “I’m the guy who’s trying to get her to win the Oscar. It’s a fun part. It’s similar role that I played when I was touring with ‘Jersey Boys,’ Bob Crew. He was the manager and producer for the Four Seasons. So it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great role.”
Hadley said the stage version of ‘The Bodyguard’ will be a different experience than that movie, as the story is more cohesive and features more concert scenes and a lot of classic Whitney Houston songs that weren’t on the original soundtrack.
“It is an homage to the movie but it’s also a separate thing from the movie,” he said. “For people that know the movie, I think it was a little confusing in the plot line. There were a bunch of people that were stalkers that were after Rachel. They streamlined the story from the movie and I think it makes some of the characters more sympathetic and it streamlines the villain in the piece. I think a gay audience will enjoy the villain with his shirt off.”
He added there’s is more to the show than just a theatrical Whitney Houston concert.
“Of course there are the inevitable comparisons to Whitney,” Hadley said. “You can’t not make comparisons. Plus it’s a whole lot more Whitney music than was in the movie. Deborah Cox gets to put her spin on it and make her own character of Rachel Marron. I don’t necessarily feel that it’s a Whitney tribute. I see it as a completely different story. You can’t help but think of Whitney, but for the rest of us it really is about staying true to the theme and to the characters and putting it out there and telling the story.”
Houston’s status as one of the greatest and most iconic singers of any generations, and her untimely death, could cast a shadow over a story and soundtrack with which she was so intertwined. But Hadley said her popularity has increased even more over the last few years.
“Her esteem with her fan base has even grown,” he said. “People love her even more now and perhaps because of how everything ended so tragically. This brings a lot of her serious fans to [the play]. I think she’s in the public eye in a much more favorable light after her death than she was when she was going through a lot of the rough stuff in her life. We see that in the crowds that come. They feel very touched by hearing Whitney’s music and hear Deborah sing it so beautifully. For me, it’s music I grew up with. I came out at a time when I was really discovering pop music. The early Whitney music is imbedded in my gay soul, as it is in all of us. Especially the big song, ‘I Will Always Love You.’ [It] was a beautifully written song when Dolly Parton wrote it but Whitney gave it such an amazing performance that it has stuck in our brains and helped it to endure.”
Hadley added that having a lead actor who is also a pop start helps to elevate the show into something that can stand on its own.
“What we all realized in rehearsals around Deborah is that she’s the first person to play this role that is an actual pop star,” he said. “The women who did it in Britain were more Broadway stars. Deborah is the first to have a huge following. I don’t know if that is important for the role. We have terrific understudies for when Deborah can’t do all eight shows. But it’s really a cool thing to watch a woman who has played giant arenas with her own hit music like Deborah has, and then here she is playing a character that does that. And Deborah has her own fans that come and mob her at the stage door. They were going crazy in Chicago. They’re at a Deborah Cox concert while they are listening to Whitney music while they are watching her play this role. There’s all these levels going on and it’s really fascinating.”
Hadley said that if the first run of American performances are any indication, a lot of audiences will always be loving “The Bodyguard” for a while.
“We’re amazed at how well it’s selling,” he said. “People jump to their feet and dance in the aisles at the end of the show. So we’ll continue to ride the wave and see how it goes.”
Broadway Philadelphia presents “The Bodyguard” starring Deborah Cox Feb. 21-26 at Kimmel’s Academy of Music, 250 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, call 215-790-5800 or visit www.thebodyguardmusical.com.