Toni Braxton and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds bring a wealth of accolades to their limited run in the Broadway musical After Midnight. But even with 16 Grammys between them and decades of stage performances, Babyface just can’t shake the nerves. “I don't do things out of my comfort zone,” he says, “Toni will tell you.”
And yet, the chance to work with Braxton, and Wynton Marsalis, on a musical celebrating Duke Ellington’s years at the Cotton Club was just too tempting.
ESSENCE.com: Toni, you’ve been on Broadway three times before. What advice have you given to Babyface?
Toni Braxton: None. There's none for him to have. He's great.
Did you encourage him to do this, or…
Braxton: No, he mentioned it to me.
Babyface: I encouraged her.
The musical honors the music of Duke Ellington. I imagine that’s someone you've looked up to, musically?
Babyface: That's part of the reason for taking this on. There are three major reasons why. First, my mom passed away about a year and a half ago and I really wanted to do this for her cause I knew that she would be tickled pink that I would be on Broadway. I feel like she's going to be watching this. Also, just to do something out of my comfort zone at this point—I mean I'm an older guy.
Braxton: He is not.
Babyface: I’m older than her.
There’s a lot of dancing in this musical.
Babyface: There's a lot of dancing. There are a lot of things that I don't do. The other reason was because it was a chance to do it with Toni. To be on Broadway with her made it a little bit easier. And, it is the music of Duke Ellington and the poetry of Langston Hughes. This is probably the best way I could ever come to Broadway.
Aren’t you glad you encouraged Toni not to retire from singing?
Braxton: I am too, now.
Babyface: In every way, from doing the album and also and seeing glimpses of her as she's performing in the show. It's amazing. Like drinking a fine wine.
Fantasia did the show for four months and she spoke about looking to Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington for vocal inspiration. Who are the people that you are kind of calling up for this, Toni?
Braxton: I love Ella [Fitzgerald]. My great aunt used to listen to her. And I remember the Memorex commercial where she would sing a note, sing it high and the glass would crack that was her. Her voice was incredible. I get to do her song. I sound nothing like her of course. I have my own take on it.
You call Babyface your musical husband. You've been spending a lot of time together in the last year and a half working on the album. What happens when you have those “He’s getting on my nerves” moment?
Babyface: We just don't talk to each other. We get past it and…
Braxton: I'll call and fuss about something.
Babyface: And I give you a moment. I think she's just fussing; she'll be all right.
Braxton: A couple of days later, ‘Hey kid, what you doin’? What you and the misses doin'? Let's go eat.’
Toni, no one is congratulates you on Instagram for this, right? [Some of Braxton’s sisters famously celebrated their youngest sibling, Tamar Braxton’s, album success by posting on Instagram].
Braxton: No, no, no. I got calls and face time.
Toni Braxton and Babyface join After Midnight on Broadway from March 18 – March 30th. Vanessa Williams joins the production afterwards.