According to Deborah Cox, it’s no fault of hers that her big return to Broadway ended abruptly last spring when the plug was pulled on the musical revival of Jekyll & Hyde six weeks before its limited run was to end. This, after the chart-topping R&B songstress and leading man Constantine Maroulis (American Idol) won raves when the show toured the country six months before. And though the New York press corps were not as kind to the fabled Frank Wildhorn–helmed spectacle, all bets were literally off when it was snubbed for Tony Award nominations. “I really wanted
to make my mark,” reflects Cox, who played the harlot with a heart Lucy. “I don’t have any control of what goes on, there’s a lot of politics. The whole Broadway game has changed.”
Cox is no stranger to the Great White Way: Almost 10 years ago the “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” powerhouse garnered acclaim when she debuted in Tim Rice & Elton John’s hit musical Aida. Not deterred by the Jekyll misfortunes, the 40-year-old married mother of three won’t let another decade pass before she makes it back on the boards. Tony Award–nominated producer Joey McKneely (The Life, Smokey Joe’s Cafe) has tapped her for the leading role in Josephine, a biographical musical based on the life and times of legendary entertainer Josephine Baker. It’s a story the Toronto native has followed for more than 20 years.
“I’ve been studying this woman for a long time— even in high school when I first went on tour with this French artist before I came to the U.S. and got my own deal,”shes hared. “I became an admirer of her and her legacy. When this project came along, I said ‘Wow, it’s just meant to be.’”
The forthcoming musical won’t gloss over the intricate details of Baker’s life, Cox warns. “She came from the St. Louis slums and rose to be a huge star; she [was one of ] the first black women to have a mansion, an elevator and her own hair endorsements. She was a pilot, spoke seven languages and adopted 12 children from all over the globe. She was the first openly bisexual woman who really just believed that all of us should be able to co-exist no matter our color or sexual orientation. [Her’s] was just a really brilliant story.”
Cox has been known to hold her own alongside two of the most iconic voices of the past few decades (as a background singer for Celine Dion; as a duet partner with Whitney Houston), so singing songs like “La Vie En Rose” will be a cakewalk. And after doing theatre so well, the acting won’t be a problem either. But the French? Uh, not so much. She admittedly has to brush up on that. “I speak a little bit,” she chuckled before breaking out into what sounded like some “Lady Marmalade”Creole.
“I think I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my career because I’m doing what I love,” she adds. “I think it’s important for an artist to get [to] that place, and not many do.”