Janeece Freeman-Clark is finding out there are a lot of perks to being married to a Color Purple cast member. Since her husband, actor Dwayne Clark, is in the Tony-nominated production’s ensemble, she gets an inside view of one of the most exciting revivals to have hit Broadway in years, and she scored an invite to Jennifer Hudson’s New Year’s Eve party.
She and her husband are veteran performers, having met in the Broadway production of Urinetown, though their courtship really started when they played opposite each other in Ain’t Misbehavin’ . But after two kids (Jada, 7, and DJ, 4), Freeman-Clark decided to focus on teaching and now leads the musical theatre department at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She also founded the Vanguard Theater Company last year. For the company’s inaugural production she and Clark wrote A Portrait of Ray: A Tribute to Ray Charles, starring her husband. They will team up again on the popular production this fall for Newark Celebration 350. Until then they’ll enjoy basking in the The Color Purple’s Tony-nominated glow.
I saw The Color Purple last night, and it is life changing!
Janeece Freeman-Clark: I’ve seen him in many, many different shows, and this is definitely one of my favorites. I’m just excited that he has the opportunity to be a part of such a special cast.
Yes, the cast is amazing! Have they been welcoming to you, Janeece?
JFC: People always say that the cast is like a family, but I actually feel that to really be the case with this cast in particular. I will never forget Jennifer Hudson’s New Year’s party. When we walked in, she was walking around without her shoes on—very casual—and she’s like, “Hey baby what can I get you to drink?” I was like, “Okay, Jennifer Hudson, go get me a cocktail.” It was just very kind, and that’s how they all are in general. They have a way with one another that just feels very free and easy and family like. It feels like Thanksgiving dinner with your family. I have felt very welcomed, as a matter of fact, several of the people in the cast have volunteered to do things for [Vanguard].
How did your relationship start? I know you met in the cast of Urinetown on Broadway.
Dwayne Clark: When we met in Urinetown, I was already a part of the cast and one day our stage manager came up to me and said that they hired a new girl named Janeece Freeman and asked if I knew her. I didn’t. The reason she asked was because in Urinetown there was only one black guy. Then I joined the company and I was the other black guy. Then they hired a black girl, and they were like, “You have to know her.”
JFC: I should back up though, and say that I actually saw Dwayne perform before we ever met in the first national tour of Rent when I was in college at the University of Michigan. He played Benny, and it was funny because years later when he was looking through my old Playbills he was like, “Look there’s me!”
That is so weird. Only in showbiz!
JFC: Isn’t that so wild? We were like this is a little too freaky. Then what’s really crazy—and even when I tell this story I kind of can’t believe this happened—is that right after Urinetown closed, he and I auditioned for a production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Dallas Theater Center. At the audition, the director, Greg Ganakas, just happened to put us together, and Dwayne is a beast in the audition room—he just makes sure that everyone pays attention to him. I’ve actually learned a lot from him in that way. Whether it’s that he wanted the directors to pay attention to him or me I don’t know, but they paired us together with this choreography that’s kind of like cat and mouse where the guy is chasing the girl. He was making these hilarious noises as he was chasing after me, like, “Oooh! Hot momma!” to the point where I wasn’t even able to do the dance. I was halfway doing it, but most of the time I was laughing at him, but the director loved our chemistry and we were cast opposite each other. He was Andre and I was Charlayne, and I always say that that is where we really fell in love. We were in a new place. We were away from all the hustle and bustle of New York, and we spent all our time getting to know one another.
Then we got back from Dallas, we both went in for a production of Bare, that was going to be the first show at New World Stages, and we both got cast in that show, as well. That was three shows in a row, and we were like, “God is trying to tell us something!” It was just fate, but the hilarious thing is that we were supposed to start rehearsals for Bare on a Monday so we decided to go to Vegas for the weekend before going into this big rehearsal process, and while we were in Vegas, living it up, I got a call from my father who lives in Michigan, and he said that he was reading the New York Times and our show got canceled. Literally this was on a Saturday and we were supposed to come to rehearsal on Monday, and we found out from my father that our show was canceled. That’s how show business works.
At least you were in Vegas!
JFC: Exactly, but we did stop gambling. I said, “Maybe we should hold our coins.”
Last year at this time you directed Dwayne in a benefit show, A Portrait of Ray in Maplewood, NJ. Was that a really different dynamic than when you perform together?
JFC: It’s very, very different. When we perform together—and we’ve been fortunate to have done a lot of pieces together over the years—we really have a great time, especially when we do Ain’t Misbehavin’, which we’ve probably done about three times now. When we do that show I feel like it takes our relationship up a step. There’s a lot of chemistry between those two characters, and it’s kind of fun because you’re doing a little role play onstage. Then you go home to the apartment!
It sounds like a theatrical honeymoon!
JFC: Exactly! But when it comes to directing Dwayne, it’s definitely a very different dynamic. I will say that we don’t always see eye to eye, but I think that’s the case in any collaboration. Sometimes we might not sleep in the same bed that night, but the show will be better for it!
DC: I don’t think you really fully know your spouse when you first marry them: As you grow together you discover new things about each other. I’ve always known that she was gifted, but when she started getting into directing, I was like, “There’s this other ability.” There were some days when I had to go, “Okay that’s my boo. It’s all good. It’s cool.” Then there were some other days when I was like, “Um, I don’t know about that.” But, it’s something I would do with any director. It’s good to see her thrive in an area other than performing, and she really does great work.
JFC: The thing that’s difficult for me is that when I am in director mode, I am in director mode. I’m not in wife mode. I think that he wishes that there was a little bit more of a balance, and I can understand that. I am his wife, but I’m so focused on making the show the best that it can possibly be, because I want to make sure that what’s on that stage truly represents his absolute best. What you saw him do in the ensemble of The Color Purple only scratches the surface.