Tony award winning actress LaChanze is ready to share her story with the world. After a busy career with roles on both film and stage, she is going on tour with her new album “Feeling Good.” We chatted with her about finding inspiration and what it takes to be successful on Broadway.
When did you know that you wanted to be a performer?
Oh, God. I must have been six years old. I started way back when. I was dancing and performing as a child all up and down the West Coast. It was actually the only thing I could do. I am a natural performer. I just always have been doing it.
What’s the first musical you saw?
Chicago. I believe I saw it on Broadway. Starring Graciela Daniele. She was not starring, but she was in it and subsequently later on she became the director of Once On This Island, my first lead on Broadway.
You won the Tony Award for The Color Purple, so how did you feel going to see the recent revival and then watching Cynthia Erivo win a Tony for the same role as you?
You know, I had mixed feelings because I felt like I was still so connected to my production that I couldn’t even imagine there being another production, but after I saw it and I saw it what the new actors and actresses were bringing to the role, I was completely appreciative of what they were doing and so happy that it had another life.
How did winning a Tony Award affect your career?
It’s been interesting. You know, winning the Tony has given me a title which is kind of cool, “Tony Award winner.” Especially for a lead actress, that was really special. It put me in a circle of performers that I have always admired and it’s actually been really nice to have that kind of admiration and support. In terms of my career and what I have been doing – I am still a working actor. I am still out here trying to find the right parts and take the right roles and do what’s best for my future. So it’s nice to have but it doesn’t define me.
Question from a Facebook follower: What was like it working with Idina Menzel and the rest of the cast of If/Then?
Oh, Idina is fantastic to work with on stage. She is such a professional. She is such a hard worker, she is relentless about work. She takes it with her everywhere. I don’t know where she gets the energy, but backstage she is so silly and funny, and we became really good friends. She is really just a lot of fun. She is very silly and she can be also very vulnerable at times, which is why I think her work is so touching to many people because she is really raw and open on stage and that’s nice to share up there. And the rest of the cast, we are one of the closest casts I have ever worked with. I am still really good friends with everybody in the show. So I miss those people. We were together for a long time. I miss all of them.
What inspired the music for your new album Feeling Good?
I have been working on this story about my life. I am working on a memoir right now. I am writing a book about my life and what’s happened, some of the changes I have had in my life. I just had a really tumultuous journey to get to this point, and I am halfway through I like to call it. People are always asking me after they leave my concerts, “LaChanze, when are you going to have an album out,” and I have sung on so many cast albums and stuff and never done anything of my own. So I have taken three of the tracks from the concert and I have put them on EP so when you come to my concert you can get one.
When you record for your personal album, is it a very different experience than recording for a cast album?
Yes. Cast album, you sing the song from the top to the bottom. Just sing the song. In a recording session for your own, you can cut and paste and take better tracks that you don’t like, but cast albums are usually within a time slot that you have to work within. Like you do it in one day. It’s kind of crazy.
Oh, yeah. Cast albums are recorded in one day. You get there in the morning and you can be there until 2:00 in the morning, but you do it in one day. There are no two days.
That sounds like a lot of work.
Can be, but that’s traditionally how it’s done.
How does theater help you deal with hardships in your personal life?
Well, I am an actor so it’s wonderful for me to be able to use the art if I am not feeling in a great mood. I am fortunate enough to be in a job where I get to be emotional. So if I am having a tough day, I can bring it to the stage and let all my emotions out there. It helps me in terms of staying balanced.
You know, people always think that actors are as dramatic as we are on stage, but we are really not. A lot of us are actually very introverted because we have to be so extroverted on stage.
Any advice for young actors who are pursuing a career in show business?
Yes. If you are going to be in this industry, you must most definitely learn your craft, be good at it, but also learn the business. Don’t forget that this is business; it’s not all about fun and games. You have to learn the people you are working with, you have to know what they have done, you have got to do your research.
You got to be prepared for how to save your money, how to manage your money. Make sure you are reading your contracts thoroughly. Make sure you are getting paid the way you should be getting paid. Make sure that all the rules are being followed. That very much applies to this business so you can have a long longevity. Not just, “oh, I am having a great time being in this Broadway show.” Plan for your future.
What is it like going on tour with your music and going on tour with a Broadway show and how do they compare?
Going on tour in a show, I am working for someone. It’s fantastic and it’s wonderful to be working for someone, but they are taking care of all the work. You know, the production and all that stuff. When I am working for myself on my own tour, I am the boss. So it’s a lot harder work because I got to manage everyone else and all parts, the music.
Then I have to be on the stage as a solo artist, so working both sides of my brain, but it’s so fulfilling because I am in control and I know what’s happening and I have a wonderful team that I am working with. Marco Pigua is an incredible music director. Tamar Tony is an incredible director. My music producer for my record is Michael Latuga, so I have a pretty powerful team around me and we are writing some original music, as well as singing some standards.
Again, the songs are about my life so I have chosen songs that are specific to the moments in my life. It’s not all the musical theater music. It’s about me so that’s the deal. That’s the difference.
You have had opportunities to work on stage and film. How do they compare and which one do you prefer?
I prefer stage. Film, because it’s not linear, it can be challenging at times because you are not just getting on the stage and performing. You have to do bits and pieces. So each little scene becomes beginning, middle and end. That can be a little bit challenging when you are working in a smaller medium. It’s why I do love working on film. It’s such an art form that’s rich and you can get so much emotion out of it. I prefer the stage because I get to use more of my skills.
BroadwayCon took place recently – what was that like and would you have gone as a kid if they had something similar?
I wish that BroadwayCon existed as a kid. I would have lost my mind. My kids went and they absolutely loved it. It was incredible. It was great because I did the Broadway Feud and I rocked it because I did the speed zone. I killed it. I freaking killed it.
Any on stage mishaps?
All the time. One time my wig fell off. Fell into the pit. One time at If/Then I brought the yellow stool on.
Yes, I was there.
You were there when I brought the stool on? How ridiculous was that?
It was really funny and Idina made a whole scene.
It was about the stool – because the stool, when you walk off, I just put it down and the prop guy usually takes it out of my way. If it’s in front of me – I mean, I wasn’t even thinking. I was like, “oh, time to pick up my stool and go back out.” I was like, “wait, I have my stool in the wrong scene.”
I was at that show. There were a lot of funny mishaps that day.
Yes. It was crazy.
Can you describe your experience in each of the following shows?
The Color Purple:
Color Purple was the most moving piece of theater I have ever done. It was deeply gratifying, satisfying. Every single night I felt like I lived my life all over again.
The most fun I had on stage. I got to be a comedic character that was to bring life and joy and beauty and just attitude and everything. It was so special.
It was ethereal for me. I got to play somewhat of a goddess. I felt regal and beautiful. Lovely.
Cabin in the Sky:
Oh, that was wonderful. It was all about being in love and making the right choices and for me it was just loving for love’s sake. Just is all about being in love and I love that about the characters.
I felt honored to be part of that production because it was a theater favorite. It was fun to be in that.
Dreamgirls was one of my first roles and that’s when I learned a lot about my skills, my talent. I learned how to maintain eight shows a week. It was a learning curve for me. I was understudy so I really had to learn a lot.
What’s your favorite thing about New York City?
LaChanze will kick off her new tour at the Highline Ballroom on February 27th. Click for more info and tickets.