Canadian singer Deborah Cox started at a very young age singing in commercials then became a back up vocalist for Celine Dion. She moved to LA and was signed by Clive Davis to Arista Records where her single “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” took over the dance charts. She followed that with more chart successes “Absolutely Not” from Dr. Dolittle 2 and “Same Script, Different Cast” with Whitney Houston. To date she has had 11 number one hits on Billboard’s dance charts.
She made her Broadway debut in Aida, the Elton John-Tim Rice musical and continues that talent with a national tour of Jekyll & Hyde starring as Lucy. American Idol star and Tony Award nominee Constantine Maroulis joins her for this new production making a quick stop in Chicago before it arrives on Broadway.
We talked to Cox about Whitney, Constantine and the Obamas while she heading into the Windy City.
Jerry Nunn: Hey, Deborah. Everyone is excited about you coming to town.
Deborah Cox: I am too. Chicago is a great town. I have been there a number of times but it will be nice to spend two weeks there. Every time I have been there it has always been in and out.
JN: I heard you will be performing at Roscoe’s.
DC: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that too. You gotta serve!
JN: So you will bring your dance songs there. That will be a late night.
DC: Yes, it will.
JN: Can you describe Jekyll & Hyde for people that are not familiar?
DC: The show is based on the premise of Robert Louis Stevenson. The foundation of the story is the same that I think everyone is familiar with. The difference is the director, Jeff Calhoun, brought a more modern, edgier, and darker vibe to the show. I play the role of Lucy Harris who is a prostitute who is trying to find a better way out of her situation. She’s a lady of the night who is a survivor. She’s a very complex character. She falls in love with Henry Jekyll who is the good side of Edward Hyde. She’s literally on a quest throughout the whole show to find him, love, and peace. Without giving the whole story away it explores many different characters who deal with their evil side and hypocrisy, also mental illness, which is the underpinning of the show. Sometimes you can have great intentions and be completely innocent but it can go completely wrong because of mental illness. So there are thought provoking moments in the show.
JN: Do you have a favorite song that you sing in Jekyll?
DC: I do. For me live theater is amazing because every night is different. There are some nights where “Someone Like You” is my favorite and then some nights where “A New Life” or “ Sympathy, Tenderness” is my favorite. So it depends on how I feel, and the audience response. That is the beauty of live theater because it is different every single night.
JN: How is it working with Constantine?
DC: It has been great. He’s really such a passionate, committed performer. He is very professional. He has a huge big voice that I think compliments mine. The two of singing together is pretty powerful. We have been working together since August. He’s like a brother to me now. We are very close. We are having a great time. We pick each other up when we need to be picked up because it has been a pretty long tour. There are times when it gets really draining and insane but we pick ourselves up and we are off again.
That goes for the whole cast. It is a really great cast of veterans. They bring something special to every character that they play.
JN: Were you familiar with the Linda Eder version?
DC: I had never seen it but I have heard the music. When I was approached about the role I immediately went to the music because I had heard it was from Frank Wildhorn. I had been a fan of his from his pop hits in the ‘80s. I was really intrigued by that and listened to the songs. I fell in love with the music. The songs were so powerful and epic. They are beautifully written songs. That is what made me want to get involved with the project.
JN: Have you always liked musicals?
DC: Growing up I was into the performing arts since high school. I did a lot of stuff in the early days from The Wizard of Oz to Fame and Oliver.
JN: All the classics…
DC: Yeah, a lot of classic shows. It was just a great platform musically to tell a story. I felt inspired by that. I love people singing songs, sets, and storytelling going on all at the same time.
JN: You are playing Josephine Baker in a musical coming up I read.
DC: Yes. Many from the creative team have come to see Jekyll as well, which is awesome. I have been attached to the project since 2009. We did a presentation for it and were just waiting for a theater. Once Jekyll & Hyde is done we will get a theater.
JN: Is that an intimidating role to play?
DC: I think this role of Lucy has been the most intimidating of my career. She is the most uninhibited, sexy, and liberating character I have ever played. There is a lot she has to deal with onstage. She has to appear to be a survivor and head of the pack. She has to take bullets, too. There is a lot of violence that she has to deal with. She is going to go down fighting. I think that is the hardest part playing this woman who is so vulnerable but so strong as well.
JN: I look forward to see it.
DC: Oh good!
JN: I wanted to ask you if “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” is really tough for you vocally?
DC: Oh yeah. It is one of those big songs that require different types of singing because it goes from being soft and intimate in the beginning to having a powerful gospel flare by the chorus. It is like a rollercoaster that song.
JN: When you sing it at Roscoe’s it will be a night to cut loose with the gay community.
DC: Absolutely. There are gay cast members in our show. When the opportunity arises where I can do something for the children then I do it because I really love the support. They have been coming out in droves to support our show. I’m very thankful for that.
JN: Did you have thoughts on your time with Whitney Houston?
DC: She was one of my mentors. She was a friend and the one who inspired me growing up. It was her voice that I heard on the radio. The first time I heard “Saving All My Love For You” I fell in love and had a girl crush. This was the style that I wanted to do. Fast forward to 2000 when I was in the studio recording “Same Script, Different Cast” together it was one of those moments that I had to pinch myself because I just couldn’t believe that I was in the studio, face to face, toe to toe with Whitney Houston recording a duet. As far as other females she only sang with her mother, Mariah Carey, and me. I felt so honored, excited, and humbled all at the same time because she was such an extraordinary woman. She had a lot of power and presence.
JN: How was it performing for the President?
DC: Amazing. I didn’t really get a chance to spend time with him because there were a lot of secret service and a lot going on. He’s a very charismatic person but very protected. My meeting with him was quite short but when I performed for Michelle Obama that was a much more lengthy engagement. We had a chance to talk about raising girls, being out on tour and balancing it all. We got a chance to talk and reflect on that.
JN: Sounds like a great experience.
DC: It was!
Jekyll & Hyde shows its dark side from March 12-24 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W Randolph St. Visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com for ticket information.
Cox shows her dance moves at Roscoe’s Tavern, 3356 N Halsted St, on March 22. Look for more information at www.roscoes.com.