Underneath the stage lights, the dazzling costumes, fantastic hair and makeup of a gifted performer, actress and singer LaChanze is a soul working to heal and uplift the house. LaChanze’s vocation – to give her viewers and listeners a little piece of her life source – is why her talents are so widely sought. Industry Rules interviewed LaChanze in the hopes of discovering a little about her personal life, to expand on her career highlights, and to seek out what drives her to make her audiences feel so good.
Described as a “volcanic and a spontaneous force of nature”, LaChanze is currently leading the cast of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. The play charts the life of the Queen of Disco through the dramatic lens of her final concert. It is directed by Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys) and has received a second extension at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego until December 24th. LaChanze, Ariana DeBose (Hamilton), and Storm Lever (Freaky Friday) play Summer at various stages of her life: “Duckling Donna”, “Disco Donna”, and “Diva Donna” played by LaChanze. LaChanze’s additional theater credits include a number of theater’s most-loved productions, including The Color Purple for which she won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Lady in Musical.
However, LaChanze’s life has also been touched by tragedy, which makes her perseverance and the joy she brings to others all the more meaningful. Her husband, Calvin J. Hooding, a financial trader, was killed during the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
LaChanze is an accomplished and sought-after concert performer. She will bring her Feeling Good tour featuring songs from her EP of the same name to the Highline Ballroom in New York on January 15, 2018 for one night only.
The mother of two is also an author of two books, an upcoming memoir and Little Diva, a book that offers a realistic and endearing view of a little girl’s dream of taking the stage like her mother, a Broadway star.
GR: Where were you born?
LACHANZE: St. Augustine, Florida.
GR: How early in your life did you dream about becoming a performer on Broadway?
LACHANZE: Not until I was about 13.
GR: When and why did you link your passion for performing with your mission to make the world feel good?
LACHANZE: When I was younger, I wasn’t as self-aware as I am now. I performed because I enjoyed it. As I evolved into a young adult, I began to understand the connection between performance and emotions for the audience – it’s a release, a medicine, a reliever to the soul.
GR: You wrote the book Little Diva about a young girl dreaming to be a Broadway star like her mother. Why did you write on this subject?
LACHANZE: As a mother, and watching my children grow up in the theater, and seeing the benefits (self-awareness, empathy, compassion, confidence, self-presentation, self-reliance, and so much more) that my children gleaned from it, I wanted to share with others.
GR: How important was it for you to be a part of the production of The Color Purple?
LACHANZE: It was the most important production I have ever been a part of. Being able to invoke the grief, the fear, the joy and the triumph that Cecile went through on stage was such an honor for me, and I remain grateful for having the opportunity to do it.
GR: What did it feel like to win a Tony for your performance?
LACHANZE: I was in an amazing category of women that I loved and respected. I didn’t think I would win, and was shocked when I did. I was and am deeply grateful.
GR: You have appeared in short films and feature films. How is acting for the stage different than acting in television and movies?
LACHANZE: Performing for an audience is the one thing I will never grow tired of doing. It brings out a passionate flame in me, that I don’t think will ever go out. When it comes to theater, we are in the moment, living and breathing these characters. Whether I am singing “Friend Unknown” or “I’m Here”, I get to see the impact on the audience. Television and film is dissected and gets more intimate in the character’s life. While it’s great, you don’t get to impact a live audience the way you do in theater.
GR: What advice would you give to young people embarking on careers in performance that you wish you had gotten when you started?
LACHANZE: To have fun, and do to things other than just performance, because it makes you a better performer when you have a well-rounded life.
GR: Your Feeling Good album is characterized as “music from your heart and soul”. What did you hope to accomplish with this album and subsequent tour?
LACHANZE: Simple: to make everyone feel good and share my journey – the good, the bad, the ugly.
GR: Why did Donna Summer’s story resonate with you and what should audiences expect from Summer?
LACHANZE: I am a woman of a certain age and have the perspective of looking back over my life, as I do with my album and tour Feeling Good. I grew up listening to Donna Summers; she and her music are a part of my life. People will learn that Donna Summer is more complex than the Queen of Disco she was labeled.
GR: What’s the best part about playing the undisputed Queen of Disco?
LACHANZE: Getting to sing those songs. They are amazing.
If actress, singer and author LaChanze is new to you, and if you have not seen her perform live on a theater stage or in a performance hall, you must treat yourself to one of America’s most gracious, gifted, and versatile performers.
Creative Director: Maureen Aladin (@twelve18media)
Photographer: Nuru Kimondo Dorsey (@nurukimondo1)
Stylist: Rosco Spears (@roscospears)
Makeup: Marsha Page (@marshasmakeovers)
Hair: Edwin Jacques (@mekotti)