If you’ve been in a club anytime in the last decade, you’ve heard a Deborah Cox song — either performed by Cox herself during one of her many Dallas visits, or lip-synced to perfection by a member of her devoted drag queen army. Her hit “Nobody Supposed To Be Here” even broke records, holding the No. 1 R&B single spot for 14 consecutive weeks.
But these days, this mother of three is tearing up the footlights instead of the disco balls. After an eight-month stint on Broadway in the lead role in Aida (where she took over for notables including Tony Braxton), Cox is headed back to the Great White Way in the spring, in Jekyll & Hyde, where she plays Lucy, a prostitute making the best of her situation by lording sexuality over her johns.
Fans of American Idol will also enjoy Constantine Mouralis, sixth-place winner of the show’s fourth season, in the title role, who’ll join Cox on the stage of Winspear for a pre-B’way tryout this week. We recently caught up with Cox via telephone as part of a 19-city tour.
Dallas Voice: What’s new about this version of Jekyll & Hyde that fans and newcomers can look forward to? Deborah Cox: This show is edgy, sexy and provocative. [Taking it to various locations] gives us a chance to see what works and what doesn’t and to find all the magical spots in the show to keep for Broadway. It takes a while for a character to develop — like six or seven months. This is a really nice way to have time to hone in and continue to discover who [Lucy] really is.
You starred in the title role in Aida on Broadway — how’s it different to do a show in one place versus traveling from city to city? Aida was already on before I worked with the director, which gave it a different vibe. Tony Braxton had stepped in and so had Michelle Williams. I followed and stayed on show for eight months. It was great to sink my teeth into the character. And it was the time doing that show night after night which reignited my love for musical theater. When I was approached about playing Lucy, I was very intrigued. First, I did not know of any female characters in Robert Lewis Stevenson’s book Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It was intriguing to be able to play a sexy, confident survivor.
True showtune fans, especially gays, mourn that many stagings of Jekyll cut the double entendre ridden number “Bring on the Men.” How does it fare in your show? [Laughs] It’s one of the most fun numbers we do. I think that song says a lot about Lucy — who she is and the situation she’s in. She thrives on power over men even though she is in this horrible place, being a prostitute. There is a lot of power in being that go-to girl.
What are some of your other favorite songs in the show? “A New Life” is great because it represents the person that she is and who she aspires to be. But all of the songs, even the quiet moments, change. Every night I have a different favorite. For me, last night was “A New Life,” but tomorrow might be “Someone Like You” because there’s a different emotion attached to each. The show is a rollercoaster and reactions of the audience really affect my reaction to the show.
When not playing a prostitute, you recently had a chance to perform for the Obamas. How did that happen? First I was asked to sing for Michelle [Obama] in Florida. They were campaigning a lot at the time. I heard she was a jazz fan, so I did three cuts from my jazz album, Destination Moon. Michelle gave me shout-outs, and we got to talk backstage. It was a wonderful quiet moment where we got to talk about being a mom and campaigning woman-to-woman. You gotta love the tips from the first lady about being a mother, being on the road all the time and juggling work balance and personal life. About six months after that, I was invited to Miami to perform for the president, although I did not get as much personal time with [him]. But it was an absolute honor — an honor surrounded by lots of Secret Service.
What’s the one thing you want Dallas fans to know about this version of the show? I just encourage them to come out and see it without preconception and judge for [themselves]. It’s thought – provoking, and some people even call it haunting. And if you are a Deborah Cox lover or fan … c’mon out!
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 30, 2012.