Jeannette Bayardelle, who made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple, earning the NAACP Theater Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical for her work in the central role of Celie, is currently starring in the limited engagement of Shida, a new musical that also happens to feature book, music and lyrics by the gifted artist. The one-woman production, which casts Bayardelle in numerous roles, is part of the Ars Nova Summer Fling series and is scheduled to continue through Aug. 28 at the intimate New York theatre. Bayardelle, who was also seen in the Tony-winning revival of Hair, based her musical on the life struggles of a childhood friend whose substance abuse problems nearly derailed her dreams to become a writer. I recently had the chance to chat with actress-singer-composer-lyricist-librettist Bayardelle, who spoke about the genesis of Shida as well as her work on Broadway and around the world; that interview follows.
Question: Since we haven’t spoken before, let's go back a bit. Can you tell me where you were born and raised?
Jeannette Bayardelle: I was born and raised in New York City in the Bronx.
Question: When did you start performing?
Bayardelle: Right out of high school I did my first musical, which was an Off Off-Broadway musical called Another Chance. And I went to the High School of the Performing Arts – LaGuardia in Manhattan.
Question: Did you perform as a kid as well?
Bayardelle: Not really, [although] I sang a lot in church.
Question: Were there any actors or singers you admired growing up who influenced you?
Bayardelle: Oh, absolutely, of course. I always loved Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston is someone I always looked up to vocally, but a lot of the people in high school that I did admire were people I went to school with. Going to LaGuardia, you’re in school with a bunch of talented kids.
Question: When do you think you knew performing was going to be your career?
Bayardelle: When I was in junior high school…I would sing all the time, but I really wanted to rap. But I found a love for musical theatre when I was in high school and I took an audition prep class. It was there that I learned all about musical theatre because I had never seen a musical before this time.
Question: What musicals did you get to perform in high school?
Bayardelle: I was a vocal major, so we didn’t do any musicals. We just learned songs and prepped for auditions, so we didn’t put on any musicals or anything like that in high school.
Question: Was that Off-Broadway show you mentioned your first professional...?
Bayardelle: That was my first professional job, yes.
Question: What was your Broadway debut?
Bayardelle: My Broadway debut was The Color Purple.
Bayardelle: My first night on Broadway. Ok, well you know I started The Color Purple as a swing. So I was a swing for a year, and then I took on the role of Celie a year later. [Laughs.] … A huge jump from swing to leading lady! My first time on stage was amazing. Of course, I was nervous and my stomach was a little queasy, but I [said to myself], "Now is the time, I have to do it afraid." And the first time I went on for Celie, it was such a fulfilling role. I never knew it would be so fulfilling because I had been on for the other characters; I understudied 11 different people. Nettie, the Church Ladies, so Celie was actually the last character I went on for. When I did it, that’s when I said, "Oh my goodness, I’m in love." I thought it would be a lot of work and too much pressure, but I thought, "Oh no, I can do this!" It was such a fulfilling role. Of course, I was happy to take over the role after LaChanze left. [Laughs.]
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