By Jerome Stuart Nichols
Deborah Cox has had a career in the entertainment industry that most would envy. She’s been able to cross back and forth between R&B, jazz, pop and dance in her music career, racking 11 No. 1 hits and a huge gay following in the process. She’s also taken her booming dramatic mezzo-soprano voice and acting chops to the stage, making her Broadway debut in the Elton John-Tim Rice musical “Aida” in 2004. Throughout her 17-year career, she’s been able to accomplish all of this by doing things her way.
Right now, Cox’s way has taken her back to center stage. She’s currently co-starring in the touring revival of Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s “Jekyll & Hyde” with “American Idol” alum Constantine Maroulis. The macabre musical will march onto the Fisher Theater stage Nov. 27-Dec. 2.
Cox’s career began after being discovered by Clive Davis while singing back-up for fellow Canadian diva Celine Dion. The road to becoming a chart-topping singer, Broadway star, mother and catnip for the gays is hardly straight. But it’s the passion for the work that keeps her ever-creative wheels turning.
“I’ve always wanted to be the type of artist that embodies diversity, not just in music but with everything that I do,” Cox said in an email interview. “I make an effort to do the things that I am passionate about. Doing jazz is something I have always wanted to do – musical theater, as well.”
“When I came into the business, there were so many assumptions as to the type of artist that I was going to be. But in the end, no one really knows. I am still evolving and continue to be a work in progress. I also believe things happen when they are supposed to happen and I am fortunate to be here right now. The lesson that I’ve learned is to try and live the life you love and do not allow yourself to be defined by others.”
She’s also not allowing anyone to define her character, Lucy Harris, in “Jekyll & Hyde.” She’s the first actress to bring the character to life in this reworking of this show. To many, this would be intimidating. But she’s using it as an opportunity to really make an impression.
“‘Aida’ was already up and running. So, I was adding my nuances to an already defined template,” she said. “This show had to be redeveloped and it’s a lot more intense when you are creating a new look for an already-known character.
“We’ve been on the road doing the show and tweaking as we go. This is a dream come true for me. I am so honored to be doing this role and laying the new foundation for Lucy. This character is a survivor, much like Aida, but more of a sensual character because of her circumstance.”
Just because this role is a dream doesn’t mean it’s easy. Cox is known for her effortless beauty and laid-back style; Lucy is a woman of the night in 19th-century London. It’s a far cry from Cox’s demure persona, but she has found a way to make it work.
“I have to come completely outside of my skin for this one and not think about it,” she said. “I just do it! Lucy has a story to tell and she represents so many of us who put on a facade just to get through the day. She sees through it all but she is also guilty of it.”
For an entertainer who clearly sees her rather large gay following, one might think she she’s guilty of making an awkward choice with “Jekyll.” But she thinks it’ll hit all the right notes with friends of Deborah.
“Gays love drama! I know they’ll love the tragic storyline and enjoy the talent of the amazing individuals that makes up the cast,” she said. “‘Jekyll & Hyde’ deals with the duality of man. So, on a human level, I think that everyone will leave asking him or herself if they are – more or less – Jekyll or Hyde.”
Regardless of that decisive philosophical query, Cox will definitely be back to serving diva realness for the children in 2013. New albums – that’s right: more than one – are due next year.
Jekkyl & Hyde
Nov. 27-Dec. 2
3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit