Ask any old-school theatre purist about the state of today's industry and they may tell you that true theatregoers are a dying breed and the business is in need of something new, fresh and exciting. Well, all of those adjectives are appropriate descriptions for Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's ambitious new musical, If/Then, which opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre March 30.
Though a sprawling vehicle seemingly designed to showcase the ceiling-scaling vocal prowess of Tony Award winning Wicked star Idina Menzel, the show features the talents of other veteran Broadway faves including Anthony Rapp (Rent), Jerry Dixon (Once On This Island) and LaChanze — a fiercely talented Tony Award (and Emmy Award)-winning leading lady, herself.
But for this show, the single-monikered, pint-sized powerhouse is playing the background in a supporting role. And she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I said, 'You know, I like this, I like this character, I like this role, I like the fact that it's supporting," LaChanze told Playbill.com. "It brings me back into the theatre without having to carry the show and I still could get back in and be with my daughters at the same time, to keep my eye on my 14-year-old and my 12-year-old."
The idea of "carrying a show" is nothing new for the St. Augustine, Florida native whose first gig on Broadway came in the form of tap dancing in the short-lived Maurice Hines revue Uptown, It's Hot in 1986. Since then, LaChanze's resume has become rich with epic musicals and robust roles, such as her breakthrough Once On This Island (which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Musical back in 1991), and other noteworthy work in Dreamgirls, Company, Ragtime, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Dessa Rose and Oprah Winfrey's 2005 theatrical adaptation of The Color Purple, for which she won the Leading Actress in a Musical Tony Award.
Since then — as far as the Broadway scene goes — the single mother of two pubescent girls has been virtually quiet. But unlike some other one-time Tony Award winning divas, LaChanze assured that her absence wasn't due to holding out for the next big superstar role; it was essential for her family development.
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