If one of the hottest tickets on Broadway featured the work of two über-talented Westchesterites plus one mega-star in her first Broadway role since winning a Tony in 2004, then wouldn’t you want to see it ASAP? With music by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Byram Hills High School grad Tom Kitt (Next to Normal)—a current Tony nominee—and a charming performance by Tony Award-winning actress LaChanze (The Color Purple), a Mount Vernon resident of nine years, If/Then is such a show. The contemporary musical follows Elizabeth (portrayed by Idina Menzel, who also earned a Tony nomination), a woman nearing 40 who’s moved from the West to New York City for a fresh start. Parallel storylines depict two possibilities: “Liz” focusing on love and “Beth” focusing on work. We recently caught up with LaChanze—who plays Elizabeth’s neighbor, Kate, a teacher—about her return to the Great White Way.
How are you similar to or different than the character you play?
Kate is outgoing, bubbly, very spirited, and full of life. She doesn’t think much before she speaks. I also enjoy being positive and optimistic but I’m not as aggressive as she is, for example, in encouraging her friend to go out with a stranger. I’m a little more skeptical; she’s more ‘let the chips fall where they may.’
Did a favorite teacher of yours inform your portrayal of Kate?
No, but in a scene showing me teaching kindergarten students, I did to a degree pull from my resources as a mother who once had children that age in my life. My daughters are now 12 and 14.
What have you enjoyed most about this experience so far?
I typically play roles in period pieces where women are struggling with dramatic episodes, so I am thrilled to play a modern character in New York who you might run into in the subway and a character that is full of hope. The character is happy—that’s a welcome change! I also get to show my comedic side and people say I’m funny.