Broadway fans know the amazingly talented actress/singer LaChanze from her dramatic turns in such heady and stirring roles as Sarah in the U.S. Premiere cast of RAGTIME, hew Tony Award winning Miss Celie in the Original Broadway cast of THE COLOR PURPLE and perhaps most belovedly as Ti Moune in her first Tony nominated role in ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. In a delightful interview last week she spoke of these and other roles, personal losses, the oddities of the Tony Awards, and most engagingly about the key reason she loves her current role as Kate in IF/THEN. It allows her to show audiences her rarely tapped into and if I may say, spectacular, funny side (this after witnessing her kill in the show Tuesday night at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre where IF/THEN is being performed this week).
On How and Why She Wanted to Do If/Then: “It started with how much I wanted to work with Michael Greif. I had loved his other work, and I was like anywhere…anytime. So when he called and said ‘I want to talk to you about this project I’m working on’ I would have said yes no matter what, because of my desire to work with him, and then when he said it was written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, I thought, ‘well this is not Brain surgery!’ They were still at that time creating it, and it wasn’t fully fleshed out. They compared it to the movie Sliding Door and that Kate would be Idina’s next door neighbor. So that sounded intriguing, and that was when I signed on for the workshop. That was I the fall of 2012. It was great, amazing, fell in love with the project, and just signed on for it. It was great to work with Idina. She & I had been trying to get together on a project for years, and this just seemed like a good start for us to work together.”
On Her Role: “The show takes Idina’s character down two life roads simultaneously and I play her neighbor Kate in both stories. It’s interesting; The challenge is making sure the audience keeps up. I like playing a variety of roles, but I would say I am viewed as a more dramatic actor and rarely get the opportunity to do comedy, and I LOVE comedy. Yes, there are dramatic elements to the part, but for the most part I get to make the audience smile. Which is so nice when you are always considered for the dramatic character, often in period pieces and those roles are rewarding, and challenging and beautiful and resilient, but it’s nice to play a woman who just loves life, and is just living and enjoying life in modern times. It’s a nice change for me. It’s also a nice group actors too, and we have such a good time together. “
On the Tony’s and their Peculiarities: “The year I was up for the Tony for ONCE ON THIS ISLAND I was up against the little girl (Daisy Eagan) in THE SECRET GARDEN, and she won. It was for Best Featured Actress in a musical and it was me, her, Alison Fraser who was also in THE SECRET GARDEN, AND Cady Huffman in THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES. And at the Tony party I remember seeing Alison, and Cady, and we were all thinking, shouldn’t there be a separate category for kids? Not that she wasn’t good in her role I imagine, I mean I didn’t see it, but you know, c’mon guys, give us ladies a break!” (Editor’s Note: there’s also the issue of Daisy Eagan being the LEAD role in The Secret Garden and not a featured role but that happens a lot when it comes to awards and young actors. Which is why Tatum O’Neal won for the film Paper Moon and Timothy Hutton won for Ordinary People in supporting categories…despite being the main character in their respective films. But, I digress. MS)
On Losing Favorite Songs When A Show is Edited Prior Broadway: “ In ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, there were two beauties that got cut. “Come Down From The Tree” early in the show, and the one that really killed me to lose “When Daniel Marries Me”, that was the hardest one to give up. It was so dramatic. I don’t know why they cut them. “ (I mention that every gay man I know loves and has memorized “Come Down From the Tree”) “Really??? That is awesome! “
RAGTIME Memories: “ The American Premiere of RAGTIME in the beautiful Shubert in Century City (Los Angeles) which was ultimately and most regrettably demolished, that beautiful theatre. Theaters should be like churches. Sarah was a beautiful part, and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are hard to beat as musical storytellers. John Rubinstein (Tateh) was amazing. I can’t tell you how wonderful. He’s one of those people that I’ve worked with who…we stayed friends.
Favorite/Most Influential / Broadway Composing Team: I have never worked with these Gentlemen and they are not American, but Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. JC SUPERSTAR, oh yes, But American, easily Stephen Sondheim, anything and everything. And I was fortunate enough to do COMPANY, which I am very proud of. And “Another Hundred People” is just amazing. I want to play the Witch in INTO THE WOODS. It’s one of those parts I am just waiting and hoping to play, I just I have to have someone ask me.
On revisiting Once on This Island in 2002 in concert in the aftermath of losing her beloved husband securities trader Calvin Gooding on 9/11 while 8 months pregnant with their second child: ONCE ON THIS ISLAND had happened at a point in my life when I was just learning about my ability as a performer and where I fit in the industry. Doing the reunion was amazing.I had my children there and they were just babies, but to bring them onstage, and have them with us there, and it was the completion of a circle, a cycle that I needed to help me through. It reminded me about a part of myself that at that time I had forgotten about. I was so caught up in all the dramatic experiences I had been having, and the loss and the loneliness, and fear, all of it. I would never have had children had I not married someone who could have provided for us. I was scared to death. Having that opportunity with those actors gave me the chance to revisit my own worth, independent of all the outside elements in my life. It jump started my passion for performing again.
Don’t miss catching the few remaining performances of IF/THEN at the Parmount through this Sunday Nov. 8th. You owe it to yourself to see LaChanze, Idina and all of the amazing cast in their shining glory.
For those of you on a budget, go to Goldstar for great deals on tickets!!!