WHEN FANS RECENTLY SPOTTED THE STAR OF BEAUTY AND the Beast dashing into the Broadway theater where the musical is playing, they began shouting, "Debbie! Debbie!" Although the actress's name is clearly spelled out overhead—and in lights yet—as Deborah Gibson, loyalists still remember her affectionately as Debbie, the 16-year-old Long Island, N.Y., high schooler whose bubblegum dreams came true in the late-1980s when she scored two No. 1 pop hits: "Foolish Beat" and "Lost in Your Eyes." Gibson, now 27, says she is glad that people still think of her as that sweet-16 teen. Back in 1990, she says, she had been pushed by record execs into posing for publicity photos in a provocative black leather bustier in order to boost sales of her album, Anything Is Possible. "I literally cried when that happened," she says of the attempted image altering.
These days, Gibson heads her own record label (Espiritu), which released her most recent, aptly titled album, Deborah, last summer. She is also enjoying a second career on Broadway (she has had the role of Belle in the Beauty production since fall) and a third in Hollywood, where she has two low-budget films (My Girlfriend's Boyfriend and Wedding Band with Dom DeLuise) in the can. As for having fallen out of heavy rotation on MTV, the still-unmarried Gibson is philosophical. "I've never had this huge, traumatic, 'Oh my God, my pop career is over' feeling," she says. "I've always looked to artists like Bette Midler and Cher, who have made pop music a part of their overall careers. That's where pop music fits into my life right now."