It’s been nearly two years since the lights went out on Broadway, and now that musicals and plays have begun to reopen, actor LaChanze is itching to return to the thing she loves the most.
“I’ve been dying to get back onstage,” she says. “I’m looking forward to having that organic exchange with the audience again.”
She won’t have to wait much longer. The 59-year-old, recognizable from her Tony-winning role in “The Color Purple” and standout performances in “Once on This Island” and “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” is returning to the Great White Way to star in “Trouble in Mind.” Roundabout Theatre Company is backing the show, which begins previews in late October.
“Trouble in Mind” centers on a Black stage actor navigating the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1950s. Though the play was written and first produced in 1955, LaChanze says its themes of race, identity and belonging make it “even more important today.”
She also hopes the show will continue a trend of giving marginalized artists a presence on Broadway. A record seven plays by Black artists are scheduled to premiere this season. But, she stresses, a greater push for inclusivity can’t be taken by producers as an opportunity for “tokenism.”
“People [need to] see the value of having a trans person play a trans role or a person who has a disability [playing the role of a disabled person],” she says. “They’re still an artist, and they need to be represented.”
The upcoming production of “Trouble in Mind” is especially meaningful because it’s the first time in her decades-long career that LaChanze is working with a Black director.
“I’ve had to approach my white male director and explain why certain characters would make a different choice in a scene,” she says. “Working with a Black director, I won’t have to fight as hard.”
To that end, LaChanze has been eager to break into producing. She spent the lockdown “reading plays and studying the business,” working to ensure the movement to make Broadway more diverse isn’t only seen as a moment.
“I look for a story people can relate to of all races and orientations, not just the people who are telling the story,” she says.
It can also mean switching the actors who traditionally get cast. She put a crack in that particular ceiling in 1995, when she was tapped for the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” It was the first time the role had been played by a Black woman, she notes. “I was so proud, I couldn’t believe it happened.”
Now, LaChanze is manifesting another barrier-breaking performance. She wants to portray Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.” She says, “I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, but I’m very interested in playing roles that are traditionally written for men.”
One thing is clear: She intends to be in the room where it happens.