'The Wiz' — Deborah Cox brings Glinda goodness to the hit musical's revival

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday January 16, 2024
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Deborah Cox as Glinda and Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy in 'The Wiz' (photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Deborah Cox as Glinda and Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy in 'The Wiz' (photo: Jeremy Daniel)

"As a little kid, I didn't even know about the Broadway show," said actor and singer Deborah Cox, who plays Glinda in a revival of "The Wiz," the Tony-winning 1975 musical that's playing a local stop of a national tour at the Golden Gate Theatre.

In a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Cox recalled having seen the classic Judy Garland film, "The Wizard of Oz," and even playing Scarecrow in a grammar school production.

But she only became passionate about the pre-Potter Wizarding World when she saw the very role she'd performed as a student get blown up, dipped in glitter and set into feverish motion by Michael Jackson in the movie version of "The Wiz" (1978).

"Here was this recording artist stepping aside from how we all knew him to play this fun, crazy character."

Many of Cox's gay fans will no doubt have a similar reaction to her stint in the Broadway-bound revival, since she is best known by the queer community as a dance music diva.

Deborah Cox  

Dance floor to stage
Over the course of her own nearly 30-year recording career, Cox has notched 13 #1 hits on the Billboard Dance Club chart, most recently "Let The World Be Ours Tonight" (2017) and most famously the ageless 1998 smash "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here," which also reached #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 pop chart.

Having performed at Pride festivals, circuit parties and landmark events, including World Pride NYC 2019, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Cox has grown from ally to advocate to icon. In a Venn diagram charting Fans of Deborah and Friends of Dorothy, the overlap would approach an eclipse.

But many enthusiasts of Cox's dance music may be unaware that, since 2004, she's had an increasingly sizable side hustle in the theater. After making her stage debut in the title role of "Aida" on Broadway (a part originated by Heather Headley), Cox starred in national touring productions of "Jekyll and Hyde" and "The Bodyguard," playing the lead role originated by Whitney Houston in the movie that show was based on.

Cox also covered many Houston hits in the Angela Bassett-directed 2015 Lifetime biopic, "I Will Always Love You," in which her singing voice was dubbed over footage of actor Yaya DaCosta.

Her own road forward
"The studio aspect of the music business has never really been much fun for me," said Cox of her increased focus on theater.

"The past few years have been really tumultuous, both because of the pandemic and the changes that have been going on in the music business," she said, alluding to the marginalization of R&B and soul genres in the streaming era.

"The whole process of going into the studio to develop a body of work and then making all the effort it takes to get it heard by the public isn't what I was looking to do at this point. I've always liked getting out and singing in front of live audiences the most, and I wanted to have some fun.

Cox, 49, said that after a career with plenty of ups and downs, the role of Glinda and the character's signature song, "Believe in Yourself" taps into strengths she's developed along her own path.

"She's very warm, enlightened and maternal," said Cox, who has three children of her own, ages 15, 17 and 20, and is now on the road with castmates who are largely younger than herself.

"The character is lighthearted, but also grounded," Cox added. "I've been through a lot in the business, so I'm at a stage of my life where I'm not naive and, like Glinda, I'm able to offer little gems of advice."

'The Wiz,' through Feb. 11. $55-$172. Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St. www.broadwaysf.com|

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