Toni Braxton Celebrates Return To The Stage, Looks To First LP For Inspiration

Singer at work on first release for Blackground Entertainment, due in December.

NEW YORK — It wasn't exactly what you might have expected from Toni Braxton's return to the stage.

Instead of hitting an arena to roll out her catalog of hits to an audience of thousands, Braxton returned to Broadway last month to tackle the title role of the award-winning musical "Aida."

"I feel relieved," Braxton said, her opening-night performance freshly behind her. One hand holding her husband's and the other trying to keep her long dress from touching the grimy streets, Braxton entered the Laura Belle restaurant to celebrate her return to the Great White Way. "I loved it. I haven't worked [onstage] in five years — I've been pregnant for two — so it feels good to be back out there."

Braxton, no stranger to Broadway, began her live theatrical career in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" in 1998. And through November of this year, she's playing the role of a Nubian princess forced into slavery and trapped in a love triangle in Elton John and Tim Rice's "Aida" (see "Baby Might Do His Famous Birdcall For Toni Braxton During Her 'Aida' Run").

"I'm more comfortable performing," she said. "But the acting is a little more challenging for me. Doing 'Beauty and the Beast' helped me exercise that muscle, so I'm a little more comfortable than I was the first time."

With a high-profile Broadway run and her second child — Diezel Ky Braxton Lewis, born in March — it might seem like her recording career is on the back burner. But Braxton is marching ahead, and plans to have a new album in stores in December. The album will be her first since parting ways with her longtime label, Arista Records, and inking a new deal with Blackground Entertainment.

"It was just time to move on," she said. "It was just time."

Although Braxton's era with Arista was thick with hits, her move to Blackground was not a huge jump. For the past several years, Aaliyah's uncle/Blackground CEO Barry Hankerson managed Braxton's musical career, the singer's publicist said.

"It's going to be more like the first album," Braxton said of her first Blackground release. Braxton's 1993 self-titled debut LP sold 10 million copies worldwide.