“She’s one of those rare people who is not only an incredible actress but there’s that shocking voice,” said Seth Rudetsky when asked to describe LaChanze. “Sure, there are records and videos you can listen to and hear how great she is, but the experience of seeing and hearing her sing live is just amazing.”
The New York Times called her “magnetic.” Variety called her “dazzling,” and the Washington Post said she’s “irresistible.” The Broadway star is appearing for one night only with Rudetsky at Provincetown Town Hall on Sunday, Aug. 20. It’s a concert not to be missed.
Whether it’s the ebullient opening notes of Ti Moune’s “Waiting for Life” from Once on This Island or Celie’s gut-wrenching closing number “I’m Here” from The Color Purple — two roles she originated on Broadway — LaChanze’s soprano delivers spine-tingling chills.
She has originated other roles on Broadway, including recently playing the titular role in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, which landed her a third Tony nomination for acting. Might there be some Donna Summer songs on her set list when she makes her Provincetown debut this weekend?
“Maybe,” she teased. “I like to mix it up. Of course, I want to sing the songs that people want to hear — but other things, too.”
She insists she really doesn’t know what she will end up singing at town hall. Spontaneity is the word at a Seth Rudetsky show, and the musical director and cohost likes to pick the songs during the show. In these semi-improvised evenings, the stars often end up singing something they’ve never performed in public. How does he get them to do it?
“The artists trust me to make them look good,” said Rudetsky.
Rudetsky’s list of accomplishments as an actor, writer, and musician is lengthy. As the host of Seth’s Big Fat Broadway and Seth Speaks on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, Rudetsky is deeply entrenched in the Broadway world. During the pandemic shutdown, he and his husband, James Wesley, hosted nightly online fundraising concerts, a series titled “Stars in the House.” Rudetsky accompanied singers in their living rooms from his living room. The online audience was encouraged to make donations. By the time the theater district reopened, they had raised $1.2 million for the Actor’s Fund and another $700,000 for other charities.
“Now I look back on it and think, how did we do it?” said Rudetsky. “Yes, it was a lot of work doing nightly shows, often twice-nightly shows, but I was also hanging out with my friends online. It was fun.”
Out of the spotlight, LaChanze’s life has been as dramatic as any role she has performed. Her rise to stardom was relatively quick. In 1986, she landed a role in a Broadway musical called Uptown … It’s Hot! The show closed after just three performances. Four years later, she was cast as Ti Moune in Once on This Island. It made her a star, and Rhonda LaChanze Sapp would be known as just LaChanze from then on.
But tragedy was waiting in the wings. On Sept. 11, 2001, her husband, Calvin Gooding, a bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, was working in the company’s World Trade Center headquarters only a few floors above where the first plane hit the North Tower. LaChanze was eight months pregnant at the time. Their second daughter, Zaya, was born on Oct 23, 2001.
For the next 20 years, LaChanze was the voice and face of what the Daily News dubbed “the saddest sorority — widows who were pregnant on 9/11.” She was frequently called on to perform at benefits and fundraisers. In what NBC News called “a brave and extraordinary performance,” LaChanze sang “Amazing Grace” at the dedication of the 9/11 Museum. But in 2020, LaChanze announced that the role was wearing on her and she would no longer sing at these events. Going forward, she would grieve privately.
“Twenty years ago, I couldn’t see anything that was going to happen for me,” LaChanze told the Daily News in 2021. “I had no vision for my future because the future I had envisioned was obliterated.”
She eventually returned to the stage in The Vagina Monologues, followed by Rudetsky’s concert version of Funny Girl, and, finally, the Oprah Winfrey-produced musical The Color Purple, which won her the 2006 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Today, LaChanze is busier than ever. Her performance in Trouble in Mind earned her another Tony nomination, and two shows she produced brought her more awards that sparkled from a shelf in the background of her office while we spoke.
She’s also the vice president of Black Theatre United, an organization demanding changes in the systemic racism on Broadway.
“Would you be surprised to hear that until recently I had never worked with a Black director?” she asked. As she explained it, even shows with mostly Black casts typically have been created and controlled by teams of white people, mostly men. According to Zippia.com, a job search information site, only 8 percent of theater directors in the U.S. are Black.
Her next producing project is JaJa’s African Hair Braiding, a new play by Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh, directed by African-American director Whitney White. It opens on Broadway next month.
Celia Rose Gooding, LaChanze’s elder daughter, recently made her own Broadway debut in the musical Jagged Little Pill. LaChanze was in a musical version of A Christmas Carol, making them the first mother and daughter to be performing on Broadway at the same time.
Given her illustrious career, is LaChanze one of those stage mothers?
“I’m not a Mama Rose,” she said with a laugh. “But then again, in my own way I am.”
Mixing It Up
The event: LaChanze in concert with Seth Rudetsky
The time: Sunday, August 20, 8:30 p.m.
The place: Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St.
The cost: $50 to $100 at brownpapertickets.com