[Broadway Ad Network]

[Broadway Ad Network]

  • R&B hit-making diva Deborah Cox, who's riding high on music industry trade charts, now adds another impressive statistic to her resume. This will come as no surprise to any fan of Cox's. She loves challenges. As if three smash albums in nine years and featured roles on TV and in film is not enough, Cox has made her Broadway debut in the title role in Tim Rice and Elton John's mega-musical Aida, celebrating its Fourth Anniversary on The Great White Way.

    The show's producers like to boast that this Disney adaptation of the Verdi opera, though loosely based on it, isn't your grandmother's Aida - or your mother's. Indeed, since it opened in early 2000, you could say it's the first musical for a new millennium. While it's no secret the show has a cult following among young people, there's much to admire for John and Rice fans of all ages.

    "In an opera," points out lyricist Rice, "the music carries the character emotions. In a musical, it's a combination of the music and book. Most musicals that work, have a great story. It's important thing to get that right." And, notes John, "what a story. Aida is a tragic, beautiful story about the ultimate sacrifice: dying for love."

    For a long time, in spite of her hit musical career, Cox yearned to do something completely different. "And this is it!" she laughs. "Being on Broadway was a long-time goal, so to be starring in a hit musical is a dream come true. I love live audiences, but being in show with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice [the follow-up to their great success with The Lion King] I knew would be a stimulating experience. I'm having a ball acting, singing and dancing."

    Cox, who's in the show through mid-June, says Aida's love story is hard to resist. Of the score [winner of the 2000 Tony for Best Score], she says "It's quite breathtaking. That shouldn't come as a surprise, since I'm a huge fan of Elton and Tim's work. The lyrics and melodies are so moving, it's a sublime pleasure singing their songs. It's not something you get tired of."

    As might be true in a love story about an Egyptian prince in line to be pharaoh who captures a slave only to fall madly in love [suggested not only by the opera but also a children's book retelling the story by legendary soprano Leontyne Price], the most memorable songs are the ballads. In Aida, there are three quite stunning duets between the lovers: "Enchantment Passing Through, "Written In the Stars" and the poignant "Elaborate Lives."

    Born in Toronto in 1973, Cox's passion for music was sparked hearing Gladys Knight sing "Help Me Make It Through The Night" when she was six. At 11, and unbelievably shy, she somehow let her family talk her into entering a TV talent competition. She won and got gigs singing jingles and working with local bands.

    "I was the busiest student in school," Cox laughs. "I'd finish at a club around one in the morning, go home, study and get up early the next day for school. It was hectic but I enjoyed every minute."

    Though she was a natural at sports, specifically track and field. Cox thought she might have a career as a journalist. That all changed as she continued her studies in classical music and jazz at a performing arts school. There she fell in love with a variety of music styles made popular by Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and Bob Marley. In 1992, she got a job singing backup for another Canadian, Celine Dion. That led to the recording of her first song, which came to the attention of legendary star discoverer Clive Davis. He has said he was "impressed with Deborah's vocal range and soulful delivery.

    Signed to Davis' Arista label [and later to his new J Records], Cox's 1995 self-titled debut album had tracks produced by such hip-hop trendsetters as Babyface and Darryl Simmons. "Who Do U Love?," a duet with R.L. from that album, sold over 500,000 copies. The album quickly soared to Gold status [a million dollars in sales]. The "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here" track from her second album One Wish topped trade industry R&B charts for 14 weeks; another track, "We Can't Be Friends," hit the Top 10. It went Platinum [one million copies sold].

    In 2000, Cox kept some pretty impressive company, touring with Lillith Fair with Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks and Sarah McLachlan. Thanks to her connection to Davis, she recorded a duet with Whitney Houston, "Same Script, Different Cast," which is featured on Houston's Greatest Hits.

    Cox says that she and her mentor "really became partners working on my albums. At first, we put the word out that I was look for producers and songs. Then Clive and I would decide what was right. We didn't use that same method this time for The Morning After [her third album]. We went through several writing sessions I had with producer friends. It brims with songs that speak to personal experiences about relationships and some of the mistakes I made when it came to ëlove.' The result is more honest and spontaneous - more me."

    She must be doing something right. Broadway's newest Aida currently holds the Number 1 Billboard Dance Chart position with her remake of Phil Collins' "Something Happened On the Way to Heaven."

    Since she and and husband Lascelles had their first child last summer, Cox has made a deep commitment to humanitarian causes and has traveled to Uganda and Mozambique for World Vision on what she describes as a "life-altering trip that impacted me in a profound way." She has since co-hosted the organization's annual telethon.

    Though she's been in front of cameras, most notably as detective Vanessa Swan in a recurring role on TV's Nash Bridges opposite Don Johnson , on Soul Food and in the 2000 film Love Come Down, Cox is a music diva, not a stage diva.

    "So I was more than a bit worried that none of that prepared me for live theater," Cox admits. "I was extremely nervous at the auditions but I had wonderful support from everyone. And, when I came aboard for the rehearsal process, they worked me hard but were sensitive to my concerns about burning out my voice. Thankfully, they limited my vocal rehearsals to no more than three hours."

    There was more to learn, "such as understanding the process of making the audience feel the intensity of the show's emotional moments. After all, with Radames torn between being betrothed to Princess Amneris and this slave girl who is a princess from another land, this is one of the great love stories of all time."

    She dug into her character to find more than "just a beautiful Nubian princess. Aida's complex in that she's strong, intense and confident in the midst of the obstacles placed in her path and somehow manages to be witty. My mission is to capture all of that so the audience really feels her passion and love for Radames."

    There was also choreography that called for more than merely dancing, like the scene where Cox gets into fierce swordplay with her Egyptian captors. "When I realized it was just like dancing - a step here, a step there - it was fun. When they added the sword, I thought, ëWow! It looks like I know how to fight!'"

    Cox says she found "a wonderful family" in Aida's cast, which includes her Radames, Will Chase, the young veteran of Broadway shows The Full Monty, Miss Saigon and Rent; and, Micky Dolenz, lead singer of The Monkees, in certainly an unexpected role, Radames' scheming father Zoser who doesn't mind having blood on his hands.

    Dolenz, co-founder of one of the first boy bands, helped propel sales of 65 million albums, and with his mates starred in their 60s TV show [about a rock ën roll band!]. He's no stranger to the stage. For the West End, he wrote the book for and directed the musical adaptation of Bugsy Malone; and starred in the Harry Nilsson musical The Point. Here, Dolenz played Vince Fontaine in the national tour of Grease. Other credits include productions of Funny ThingÖ and Tom Sawyer. He also enjoyed producer/director stints at two U.K. networks, the BBC and London Weekend TV. Most recently, he directed the hit TV sit-com Boy Meets World.


    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

    Why are you looking all the way down here?
    For more articles by Ellis Nassour, click the links below!



    Or go to the Archives

[Broadway Ad Network]

[Broadway Ad Network]