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Music

Toni Braxton: R&B Superstar Made Broadway History

Toni Braxton is an R&B superstar having won countless awards and becoming one of the highest selling female R&B artists in history. Over the course of her career, she has released 8 albums so far, all to critical acclaim, and shows no signs of stopping. She has one of the most widely recognizable voices in music, and as such, it’s only natural that she brought her raw talent out of the studio and into the realm of theatre multiple times in her career. As we celebrate Black History Month, we take a look back at her notable performances on Broadway.

Braxton made her Broadway debut in Beauty and the Beast on September 9, 1998 as Belle. The debut was historic for a few reasons; including how this marked the first time a Black woman played the principal role of Belle. This moment also marked the first time a Black woman starred in a Disney Broadway musical.

If you’ve seen Beauty and the Beast since then, you’ve seen a show that was even further directly and permanently influenced by Toni Braxton since a new song was written for the production just for her. “A Change In Me” was a pop-ballad featured in the second act in which Belle explains to her father how her feelings towards the Beast have changed. Audiences and critics alike loved the song, and it was written into all productions of Beauty and the Beast going forward. Since then, it has been widely considered to be one of the show’s highlights, and subsequent Belles have each put their own spin on the song. Susan Egan, the original Belle, even recorded her own cover of the song, which she included in her debut studio album.

For her next Broadway appearance on June 30, 2003, Braxton took on the title role in Aida. The following September, she passed out during a performance and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with the serious heart condition, pericarditis. Nevertheless, she persisted and finished her run on November 16, 2003, managing to recover from her condition a year later.

Braxton returned once more to Broadway in March 2014 to join After Midnight with her longtime friend and collaborator Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. In the show, they were part of a revolving roster of guest stars performing hits from Duke Ellington, Harold Arlen, and others in a performance paying homage to the Cotton Club, one of Harlem’s hottest jazz clubs in the 1930’s. She was in the show for two weeks before she moved onto her next project.

Toni Braxton has even made appearances at our own State Theatre! She held concerts in the State Theatre both in 2013 and in 2016.

By Shoshana Fishman

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