Since she was eight years old, Celia (pronounced Sell-ee-uh) Rose Gooding knew she wanted to be a professional performer. But her mother recognized it even earlier: “I knew when Celia was three that she had the talent and the skill and the desire and the ability to be a really solid performer.” She should know; Gooding’s mother is Tony Award winner LaChanze.
Now 19, Gooding makes her Broadway debut in the new Alanis Morissette musical Jagged Little Pill as Frankie Healy, while one block north LaChanze stars as the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol. But LaChanze hadn’t wanted her daughter to follow her into the biz.
“It wasn’t my first choice for her,” LaChanze says. “As a parent, I know that this business can be very challenging and disappointing and isolating. The theatre community, while we all love each other and know each other and are very supportive of each other, it’s a tough life.” And while LaChanze expresses her deep gratitude for the career she’s had—originating roles like Once On This Island’s Ti Moune, The Color Purple’s Celie, If/Then’s Kate, Summer’s titular Donna Summer, as well as stepping into roles like Sarah in Ragtime—her maternal concern makes sense.
Even on the successful side, working on a show, particularly a new musical, is all-consuming. LaChanze missed bedtime and softball games, family gatherings and birthdays. But Gooding remembers a home filled with love and music—a home they still share.
Though Gooding recognizes the professional challenges—having witnessed them first hand—she also took notes on how her mom handled them. “She has set an incredible example of how to be a performer and also how to be a person and a mother of two daughters and two cats,” says Gooding. “My mom knows how to do it all, and as someone who’s just learning what the word ‘all’ means, it’s incredible to have someone who can pull me aside and say, ‘Hey, you’re working too hard.’”
With all the lessons Gooding has absorbed through observation and osmosis, there is one LaChanze drills into her daughters: balance. “What I want for Celia, since she’s starting out, is to understand that her most valuable asset is her time,” LaChanze says. “[Time] to recharge yourself so that you can get on that stage and give 100 percent while you’re up there and when you’re offstage to be completely off, do the things that all other 19-year-olds are doing. Meet your friends. Binge watch Parks and Rec—that’s her show.”
Gooding coined the phrase “sniper mom” to describe her mother’s parenting.
“She’s all-seeing, but from afar. She’s 20 feet away and 20 stories up focusing,” says Gooding, “because as soon as something is a hair off, she’s right there.”
“If I can help prevent some of the pitfalls of the industry of not having someone guide you initially,” LaChanze adds, “then actually that’s all I want to be.”
This first role for Gooding is an emotionally taxing one. A 16-year-old adoptive, queer black daughter in a white family at the center of Jagged, her character Frankie has a lot to reconcile—and only moreso when she becomes the advocate for a friend who has been raped. LaChanze knows a thing or two about addressing that type of trauma onstage, particularly in The Color Purple. But she refrains from specific acting advice. As a mentor, LaChanze equips Gooding with the tools to succeed, connecting her with the right vocal coach, acting coach, and vocal therapist. Aside from that, the duo rarely discuss their shows.
“With this show, specifically, we, the cast—since it’s a story we go through together as a community—we lean on each other,” says Gooding. “We have a really awesome tapping in and tapping out process so that when we tap into a show we’re fully there, but once we tap out, we leave that energy in this space.”
But that’s not to say their work doesn’t impact each other.
For years, Gooding has served as her mom’s reader before auditions—a master class in and of itself. Gooding watches her mother experiment, make choices, and dive into the unknown, and La Chanze relishes the opportunity to play, especially with A Christmas Carol, her first non-musical.
Those who have seen LaChanze’s take on the Ghost of Christmas Present know she speaks with a Nigerian accent. “We’re three ghost and ghosts can be from anywhere,” LaChanze notes. “The fact that [director Matthew Warchus] asked me to consider this role, he’s asking an African-American woma,. Since I am a spirit, I wanted to be the spirit of a woman from another diaspora.”
Gooding acknowledges the importance of that representation, and the torch LaChanze has been carrying for years. “Literally and figuratively, if it weren’t for my mother, I would not be here,” says Gooding. “A lot of young black creative women can say the exact same thing: ‘If it were not for LaChanze...’
“She has paved the way for young black people on stage, she has widened the horizon of what is possible for us,” Gooding explains. “If there were no Ti Moune, if there were not Celie, there would be no Frankie.”
There certainly wouldn’t be Gooding’s version of Frankie. “The relationship that Frankie has with [her mom] MJ is light years different than the relationship Celia has with her mom,” Gooding says. But, Gooding and LaChanze’s dynamic offers fodder for Frankie’s goal. “When I’m Frankie dealing with MJ, I long for the relationship Celia has with her mother. It’s a lot easier to have a clear image of what I want [as the character] and it’s easier to fight for that—but it’s also a lot harder to play.”
Watching the pair, a mutual respect flows beneath the surface. (“I have a cool mom,” says Gooding; “I’m so impressed by her,” says LaChanze.) It’s hard to imagine them butting heads—though they are quick to say that they do.
One point of contention, they say: music. Gooding prefers Alanis to LaChanze’s Billie Eilish. “I am very mellow. My music puts Mom to sleep sometimes.” “I don’t want to hear depressing music right now!” LaChanze sighs. “Going home from work she’ll say, ‘Can I play music?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ I’m like, ‘Let’s pop this. Let’s turn this up, Where is the Kendrick Lamar?’”
Still, “my number one desire for both of my daughters is that we’re friends,” says LaChanze. “That’s been a driving force for me.”
But it’s clearly Gooding’s desire, as well. Their pride in starring on Broadway at the same time fills the room.
“She’s managing [all of this] and I’m the most proud of that,” LaChanze says. “That and the fact that their artwork is using her hand.”
“Just say it,” Gooding says with mock reluctance. “Say what you always say.”
“I’m half of how that hand is made,” LaChanze says. “I tell everybody, ‘I made that hand. I’m half of the reason that hand is there!’”