Based upon the 1992 film starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, THE BODYGUARD made the logical transition to the musical theatre stage in 2012 with its London debut. Since then, the show had played The UK, Ireland, The Netherlands, Cologne and even a current touring company in Seoul, Korea, so it seems only natural that The US finally gets a chance to experience the musical. The current US Tour debuted a few months ago at famed Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, New Jersey with R&B superstar Deborah Cox stepping into the role of Rachel Marron for show’s stateside debut. Cast opposite Cox as Frank Farmer, former Secret Service agent-turned-Bodyguard is Judson Mills who has appeared in such TV fare as “Walker Texas Ranger”, “As The World Turns” and most recently, “Westworld”. Among the show’s noteworthy supporting cast are Charles Gray as Bill Devaney and Jonathan Hadley as Sy Spector, two of the other men in Rachel Marron’s life. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Hadley and Gray about the show, working with Deborah, as well as their past successes in musical theatre. So, on the eve of THE BODYGUARD‘s Music City debut, as they ready to open at TPAC‘s JACKSON Hall for their March 21-26 Nashville tour stop, the latest installment of my recurring celebrity interview feature, Rapid Fire.
Rapid Fire with CHARLES GRAY, Bill Devaney in THE BODYGUARD
Jonathan Pinkerton: Prior to THE BODYGUARD, among your previous roles, you appeared as both Mufasa and Scar in National Tours of THE LION KING. I understand we have a mutual LION KING connection, my friend Geoff Myers. What’s one of your favorite memories from your time on the road with THE LION KING?
CHARLES GRAY: Geoff is a beautiful dancer and a genuine person. I haven’t seen him since I left Lion King. So many memories. A few that stand out are my first time doing “Circle of Life” and just being overwhelmed with emotion as I was on stage singing with the fact that “I’m in the Lion King” it was truly magical. A funny one was once we were in Costa Mesa, CA, and over the course of a 5 show weekend I have to perform the roles of both Mufasa and Scar back to back for 5 performances but I alternated roles for each performance, Scar/evening, Mufasa/matinee, Scar/evening, Mufasa/matinee, Scar/evening. I couldn’t think straight. It’s one thing to do multiple characters but when you are going back and forth with characters that speak to and interact with each other it can really mess with your head.
JP: Ha, I bet. OK, so, on to your current singular role…Tell me a little about Bill Devaney, Rachel’s manager in THE BODYGUARD?
CHARLES GRAY: Bill’s an old roady hippy ex performer that has known Rachel since she was young and developed a relationship with her that transitioned into him becoming her manager . His sole purpose is to guard, protect and guide Rachel and her son Fletcher. He’s the first one to act on the threats to Rachel’s life by hiring Frank Farmer. He is the driving force behind her care at all times. I think he’s a good guy but frequently frustrated with the kick back that he receives from everyone when he’s simply doing the best he can to take care of Rachel.
JP: Speaking of Rachel, Grammy-nominated, chart-topping R&B singer, Deborah Cox has stepped into the role first made famous by Whitney Houston in the film upon which the musical is based. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a fan of your THE BODYGUARD co-star since her breakout 1998 hit, “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here”.
CHARLES GRAY: I’ve been a fan of that song since it came out in the prime of my club days lol. I didn’t know much else about her until we started rehearsals. Talk about a memory that will stay with me forever. The first table reading I was sitting right next to her and she sang the songs for the first time. I melted and it took all I had not to “fan out” all over her. We’ve become great friends and I have the utmost respect for her as an artist, mother and friend. She’s sincerely one of the nicest people I know and I’m so happy/honored to be able to call her friend and perform with her daily.
JP: While doing a little research in preparation of our chat, I ran across your single, “Love Is Love”. How did that come about?
CHARLES GRAY: Thanks for mentioning it. After the Orlando Massacre I was deeply moved and needed an outlet for the emotions that I felt as a result of this senseless killing. The result was Love is Love. An anthem to tolerance, acceptance and love. My dream is for it to be performed at every human rights rally, pride parade or just chanted by anyone that wants to remind the world that we are all the same and that love is boundless and always best when freely shared.
JP: Boundless love..now that’s a nice segue to my final question for you. Having premiered the U.S. touring company of THE BODYGUARD at The Paper Mill Playhouse back in late November, how quickly did it take you all to feel like family as the show embarked on its National Tour?
CHARLES GRAY: That actually happened very early in the rehearsal stage of the show back at the 42nd street studios. We quickly recognized that this particular group of people were not only selected for their talent but also for their overall personalities. I give great credit to Frank our director. He hand picked each one of us and from conversations I’ve had with other cast members, their audition process was similar to mine. I spent as much time simply chatting about things that had nothing to do with the show as I did performing the audition material. He wanted to know who we were as individuals. Each one of us embodies some fundamental characteristic of our characters. More importantly everyone is genuinely nice, humble and happy to come to work every day. We all get along and we know how rare that is so its been a pleasure to get to know and bond with everyone, cast, crew and creatives.
Rapid Fire with Jonathan Hadley, Sy Spector in THE BODYGUARD
JONATHAN PINKERTON: You’re playing Sy Spector, Rachel Marron’s press agent. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, can you describe your vision of Sy?
JONATHAN HADLEY: Sy Spector is indeed Rachel’s PR guy, and his sole purpose in life is to get Rachel to win an Oscar! Some people think Sy is kind of smarmy, but I think he’s just trying to do his job as best as he can. I had a friend describe Sy as “endearingly annoying”, which I think is pretty accurate!!
JP: In 2014, you took some time from appearing on-stage to working behind the scenes as recent Interim Producing Director at Westport, NY’s Depot Theatre. What advantage do you find as an actor, having also directed?
JONATHAN HADLEY: That was an invaluable experience, to step behind the scenes and see just how that side of the theatre business works….one I would encourage all actors to have at sometime. As actors we often tend to think that everything revolves around us, so whenever I direct it reminds me not to take this business too personally. I am reminded that many factors go into making decisions that very often have nothing to do with the actor. So when I came back to acting, remembering that gave me much greater freedom as an actor, and allowed me to trust the Director even more.
JP: Of course before your recent gig at Depot Theatre, you appeared in more than 2000 performances of JERSEY BOYS as Bob Crewe. From what I understand,THE BODYGUARD recently hit the 100 performance mark. What’s your favorite aspect of being part of a new touring company?
JONATHAN HADLEY: It’s always such a joy being in the original cast of a show and getting to create a role with the original creative team. Even though there are already 4 companies of The Bodyguard that have been mounted around the globe, we all were encouraged to feel, during the rehearsal process, that we were creating our own American version, which was great fun. And to get to create our roles around the amazing Deborah Cox. who is such a perfect Rachel Marron, was also a great privilege. And then to go back on the road with a new show and with a young cast, many who have never toured before, is also great fun. It’s like a reunion when I go back to theatres I’ve played before and get to see dressers and stage hands I remember from the last time I was there.
JP: Speaking of…If memory serves me right, this tour isn’t your first time to play Nashville. You were here with JERSEY BOYS back in 2009, right?
JONATHAN HADLEY: Yep…we played TPAC for about three weeks
JP: Alright, one last question for you…I know your performance schedule keeps you busy, but do you hope to find time to see the sights while here in Music City?
JONATHAN HADLEY: Absolutely! I’m sure you’ll find me down on Broadway between shows, checking out all the fun Nashville has to offer. And any suggestions for a good “meat and 3” place will be greatly appreciated!
JP: Absolutely! You should definitely check out Arnold’s on 8th Avenue for what this souther boy considers the best meat and 3 this town has to offer!
With that my all-too-brief chat with Hadley and Gray came to an end, but as usual, it’s just the beginning for their time in Nashville as THE BODYGUARD begins the Nashville leg of their current National Tour on Tuesday, March 21 at TPAC. Click Here for tickets, showtimes and more information.
Following Nashville, THE BODYGUARD moves on to The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, The Saenger in New Orleans, then stops in Tucson, Sacramento, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Costa Mesa, San Diego, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Kansas City and wraps the current scheduled tour in Houston by mid-August. For tickets, dates and more information on the upcoming tour schedule, Click Here and select the city you’re interesting in attending.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest edition of Rapid Fire, Click Here to check out previous interviews. Be sure and subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler.