July 30, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Toni Braxton will soon be the envy of little girls everywhere: The Grammy-winning R&B singer debuts on Broadway September 9 as Belle, the starring role in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Braxton is in good company. The list of pop-singers-turned-Broadway-stars includes Jon Secada (“Grease”), David Bowie (“The Elephant Man”), Linda Ronstadt (“The Pirates of Penzance”), the Pointer Sisters (“Dreamgirls”), and, of course, Madonna (“Speed the Plow”). Braxton, whose two albums have sold 15 million copies worldwide, is the second pop star to play Belle. Deborah Gibson left the musical in June after 287 performances.

“A musical stage show is the perfect vehicle for a singer to expand her horizons,” says Robert Viagas, editor of Playbill On-Line. “On Broadway you’re very exposed. You have to deliver. No one is going to fix up your voice in a studio.” Viagas thinks Disney made a beauty of a choice in casting Braxton. Though the five-year-old “Beast” routinely sells out its matinee and weekend shows, the usual crowd of young children and their parents isn’t plentiful enough to pack the house every night: “She’s going to help bring in teens and attract a more ethnically diverse audience.”

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