She's been releasing pop and R&B hits for about as long as Justin Bieber has been alive. Launched her acting career in 2004 by playing the lead role in Elton John and Tim Rice's Broadway musical "Aida."
But Deborah Cox still sounds seriously grateful when congratulated on another successful year.
"I work so hard and put so many hours in and dedication, that sometimes I'm just so in the trenches I don't get to savor and enjoy it," Cox said by phone from a tour stop in Houston. "Thanks for mentioning all that has happened this year, I'm really thankful."
Cox started 2012 by topping Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart for the 11th time with her song "If It Wasn't For Love." The multi-talented entertainer also landed a pair of choice Broadway roles. Cox is Lucy in "Jekyll & Hyde" and will play the lead in the "Josephine Baker" production scheduled for 2014.
Fortunately for local theater enthusiasts, before "Jekyll & Hyde" returns to Broadway next spring, the world-famous musical is on a 25-week nationwide tour that started last month in Southern California and has a six-day engagement at the Straz Center in Tampa starting Tuesday.
Conceived for the stage by Tony and Grammy Award nominee Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden, "Jekyll & Hyde," which originally ran on Broadway from 1997 to 2001, is directed and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Jeff Calhoun.
Wildhorn and Calhoun are best known to local audiences for the Asolo Repertory Theatre's 2010 production of "Bonnie & Clyde" that then played on Broadway last year.
It was during that Manhattan run that Cox met Wildhorn and Calhoun.
"We talked about the role of Lucy and really about what I wanted to bring to the character," she said.
"I was a fan of Frank from long before -- he didn't know it -- just from the pop world, from Whitney Houston and all the other people he had worked with, I was very familiar with him as a songwriter."
She added, "I was just intrigued to have a conversation with him and Jeff while 'Bonnie & Clyde' was on Broadway. You don't always have the privilege to sit down with the creative team to just talk and I just enjoyed that process."
The musical coming to Tampa next week is based on the acclaimed novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson. Set in 19th-century London, Dr. Henry Jekyll concocts an experiment he thinks will cure his father's mental illness by taking the evil out of his heart and leaving the good. The doctor uses himself as a test subject, but things go awry when he develops a split personality with a vicious dark side dubbed Edward Hyde.
Lucy is a prostitute struggling to turn her life around. "She's just a simple girl in love in a crappy situation," Cox said. "But she finds the good in a crappy situation by being humorist, by taking on tough times with courage and being brave and knowing her power, which is her sexuality -- she knows how to use it."
Tony Award nominee Constantine Maroulis ("Rock of Ages") stars in the title dual role of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. He was also the sixth-place finalist on the fourth season of "American Idol," which Cox followed enthusiastically.
"When he was on I was so relieved they had raised the age from pubescent contestants, where everyone was plucked from the mall," she said. "It was so great to see a working musician and I just admired that about him and I knew he was a grinder, a hustler who is always working. I respect that, that's how I grew up."
The same work ethic that propelled Maroulis to "American Idol" fame and onto Broadway has also been a driving force for "Jekyll & Hyde."
"He has been an inspiring musician and person who is so dedicated to his craft, seeing him working so hard just pushes everybody in the cast," Cox said. "Being a part of this has been a labor of love. I feel so fortunate to be in this situation."
Details: Oct. 23-28, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Tickets: $44.50 (starting price). Information: 800-955-1045 or www.strazcenter.org.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.