DIVA TALK: A Chat With Jekyll & Hyde Star Deborah Cox
By Andrew Gans
April 26, 2013
News, views and reviews about the women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
The high points of the Broadway revival of Jekyll & Hyde, which is currently playing a limited engagement at the Marquis Theatre, occur when Grammy-nominated R&B star Deborah Cox opens her mouth to sing what may be composer Frank Wildhorn's best score. Cox boasts a lush, rangy, powerful alto, and when she wraps that rich sound around such tunes as "Someone Like You," "Bring on the Men" or "A New Life," the result is often thrilling. The singing actress, who previously appeared on Broadway in the title role of Aida, shares the stage here with Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis and Teal Wicks, and Cox's second-act duet with the latter on "In His Eyes" is also especially memorable. Just prior to her opening-night performance, I had the pleasure of chatting with the gifted artist, who spoke about portraying the ill-fated Lucy in the pop musical, which played a six-month national tour before arriving on Broadway; that interview follows.
Question: How did this role come about for you? Deborah Cox: Well, the Nederlanders, who are the producers of the show — [Nederlander executive vice president] Nick Scandalios is actually the one who approached me about being a part of the project, and he told me to give it some thought, and check out the script, and he told me who the team was — that Jeff Calhoun would be directing, and Tobin Ost would be doing all the designs and that Constantine was signed on as Jekyll and Hyde, and it just seemed like a great project to be a part of. So I kind of went off and read the script, because originally I didn’t know that there was a female love interest in the show. I knew the premise of "Jekyll and Hyde," but I didn’t know that this story in particular had Lucy in it. That was really intriguing to me. So I went and read the piece and later on went back and said, “Yeah I’m in!" [Laughs.]
Question: What was the touring experience like for you? I’m sure you’ve toured in concert but I don’t think you’ve ever done a show tour… Cox: Yeah, I’ve never done a Broadway scheduled tour, eight shows a week while touring in different cities. It was a great experience to get in front of different audiences every week and to hit these amazing performing arts centers and theatres across the country and really re-introduce the [musical] to people and give people a taste of my version of Lucy.
Cox in Jekyll & Hyde.
photo by Chris Bennion
Question: You have a really beautiful voice by the way. I’d really never heard you sing until this weekend, and I was really struck by your sound. Cox: Thank you! I really love the music in the show, all the songs not just the songs that I sing. I really am just taken by the score of this musical and really proud to be in it and a part of it and lend my own version and my own style to the piece. I know that this was the version the Nederlanders wanted to be the more definitive version and I knew I was going to come up against people who had preconceived ideas of what it should be, based on what was done before… I love a great challenge, so it was just important for me to make sure I was truthful with the songs and the material and that it came from that place. It seems to be resonating, which was my goal.
Question: How do you go about protecting your voice? It seems like a very demanding role to sing eight times a week. Cox: Yes, it’s a really demanding score, and it requires an extreme amount of discipline. I went back to vocal rest days on my day off, and warming up before every show, and it really makes a difference. It helps to preserve and it helps to keep my stamina going, and with this type of regimen, you really just have to take care of your health. …And, I think now I’ve found my rhythm. [Laughs.] I feel like the hamster on the wheel sometimes — just going and going! Because it’s not just the eight shows a week, it’s the press and the radio interviews and the stuff that we have to do to keep the show going as well. You know, all of it’s important, so I try to make sure that I take care of myself. I love massages, I love the spas, and I just relish the days that I can get in and completely just veg in the steam room and just get taken care of by the masseuse. And, that’s kind of how I keep it going! That and yoga and lots of tea.
Question: Tell me about working with Jeff Calhoun as the director. What has that been like for you? Cox: A wonderful experience. Jeff is so specific and has a great vision for what he wants, which is great. He allowed me to follow my instincts in places as well, so it’s been a great partnership working with him over the past seven months doing the show and really developing a great, strong, sexy, complex Lucy. He understands the backstory that I’ve created for my Lucy, and he just is the actor’s director. He really delves in and makes sure you explore all the options and all the possibilities emotionally and physically for the character. I feel really free doing this role. It’s been a great experience.
Cox with Constantine Maroulis in Jekyll & Hyde.
Photo by Chris Bennion
Question: Was Frank Wildhorn involved at all? Cox: Frank was more involved when it came to establishing the sound for me and Constantine. Being the writer of all these epic songs, he had a vision as well. He worked closely with myself and he worked closely with Constantine on the concept recording, and that kind of birthed these two roles. And, then once we got on the road, then we really, breathed new life into these characters much more firmly.
Question: How would you describe Lucy, the Lucy that you’re portraying? Cox: I would describe her as a survivor. She’s a very complex woman who’s in a bad situation, but she knows that she’s bigger and better than the situation she’s in. So she strives to find something better. She falls in love with Henry Jekyll quickly because she’s never been respected by a man before. She’s in this abusive place, but she doesn’t let that beat her down. Her spirits are always alive and always motivated. She’s motivated, I think, by being in this bad situation, and when she meets Henry Jekyll, she’s motivated to find love and find a better situation for herself. This has been the most challenging role I’ve ever played. She’s really uninhibited, she’s really complex and sexy and sultry, and it’s made me explore a different side of me that’s really exhilarating… [letting] your sexuality be sort of what’s worn on your sleeve, whereas as a person, that’s not the first thing that I’m focused on. [Laughs.]
Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for Lucy? Is there anything you look forward to each night? Cox: I think for me each night is different, which is what I love about musical theatre. It’s just profoundly magical. There are moments that happen every night that I couldn’t have thought up. Every night I go into it with a fresh palette. I love that you’re kind of walking this tightrope every night and there’s no safety net, so you’ve got to go out there and do it. Sometimes it’s "A New Life," sometimes it’s "Sympathy, Tenderness," sometimes it’s "Bring On The Men." That’s what’s really amazing about this role. It’s a great role for an actress because she’s such a complex character. I get to show many layers of her as a character, and then the songs are so different as well. There’s a lot of dynamics in the show that I get to show and highlight as well.
Question: Your character doesn't have a happy ending. How difficult is that emotionally to play eight times week? Cox: I think the toughest part for me playing her is that she’s so submissive, in a way. She has to take the abuse, and that’s just not my nature. So it’s just a constant fight physically, emotionally and spiritually onstage to just be abused. I have to take it and portray some kind of restraint [laughs]. I fight through it, and I hear the audiences – they hate that I die in the end. But I think in some ways it keeps the audiences coming back, too. I know, for me, I love tearjerkers. I love movies and songs that make me cry, and I’ll listen to them over and over again, for that feeling, and I think audiences do the same thing in a way. They want to see and go through the journey and the emotional roller coaster of the show.
Cox and Constantine Maroulis
Photo by Smallz & Raskind
Question: Tell me a bit about working with Constantine since you share a lot of stage time with him. Cox: From day one I think we had a really special connection. He is the most professional person that I’ve ever worked with. Work ethic – we’re both very similar. We go in, we go hard, and we’re passionate and very focused. And he’s wonderful to play against because we both have such a passion for the roles. And, he’s got such a great talent, and not just vocally but as an actor, and I’ve just seen his wonderful work over the past seven months really come to life and just surprisingly surpass, I think, where we started. I mean, we’re still growing, both of us, in these roles, and over the tour we’ve become really good friends. We both have our families and we push each other when we need to, we motivate each other and we inspire each other on those days where we’re tired physically…We’re a team, and we’re in it to win it. So, it’s been a great, great pleasure. I don’t think I could’ve lasted this long in a show had I not had a good chemistry with him.
Question: Is this your first official opening night on Broadway? Cox: This is my first official opening night.
Question: Are you excited about that? Cox: So excited. So, so, so excited. This is a dream come true. These roles don’t come along very often. I feel like I’m starting a new chapter, "A New Life," really and truly, I feel like that song captures everything that I’m going through in my life right now; this transition into the musical theatre world, being able to re-originate this role and open on Broadway, and having the opportunity to take this role and make my mark. I’m really grateful and thankful for this opportunity and just trying to enjoy the moment, to live in the moment.
Question: What’s next after this? Do you plan to continue doing more musical theatre? Cox: My plans are to continue developing some other projects that I have in the works that aren’t music related, and then to get back into the studio and finish up some music and get some new music out. Because between the tweets and the Facebook messages, the fans… everyone’s ready for another full-length album, of all styles [laughs]. The dance audience want their style, the jazz audience want their album – it’s just funny. So…I'm kind of torn in many different directions, but I'll get it all in!