By Barry Reszel
Leaving behind a Tony and an Emmy on her New York City mantle, if only for a few days, one of Broadway’s queens is heading to Chicago to lend a hand through her voice and presence to jumpstart an upstart.
Saturday, August 20, Tony and Emmy winner LaChanze (The Color Purple, 2006, and Handel’s Messiah Rocks, 2010, respectively) headlines the inaugural benefit for Chicago Theatre Workshop, an ambitious musical theatre incubator with two Chicago premiere musicals and a world premiere pop opera announced for its maiden season.
Taking a few minutes from her vacation before heading to the Windy City, LaChanze told ChicagolandMusicalTheatre her motivation to accept CTW’s invitation is multi-faceted. “One of the reasons why, when they approached me about doing the benefit, I said yes to doing the project is that this is the birth of a new theatre,” she said. “So the idea about being part of the birth of a theater is exciting to me. I’m a huge supporter of arts in education, and that is their mission. And Chicago is one of my favorite cities.
“I thought this would be a great way to get involved in arts and education and support a new theatre in a community that I love. So it sort of checked off a bunch of boxes for me.”
Indeed, arts education is part of the CTW mission that challenges its participant team to craft “a revolutionary new theatre company dedicated to the creation of work that challenges our perceptions of art and music through workshops, full productions and a landmark digital agreement with Actors Equity,” CTW Artistic Director Tom Mullen said.
“With a hybrid development and production model, CTW will act as an incubator for emerging talent and their work and help provide the resources needed for commercial success. Artists’ work will also reach global audiences through a digital platform where select productions will be made available for streaming.”
Both Saturday’s inaugural benefit (6:30 pm, purchase tickets via CTW’s website here) and CTW’s first season productions will be at the new Edge Theatre, 5451 N. Broadway in Edgewater. New Edge Theatre’s website is here.
It’s clear from LaChanze her Saturday performance carries both passion and purpose as she sings with CTW’s musical team. “I have a concert…my own show that I tour with, entitled, ‘Feeling Good.’ It’s basically feeling good songs…some original, some from theatre productions that I’ve done and some just of my favorite tunes that sort of tell the story of my journey through song. And these (on Saturday) are selected songs from that show…a snippet of my one-woman show.
“I wanted to select songs that will leave you feeling good. That’s the whole point. I have a friend who once said that when I come to your show, you’re like the Oprah of musical theatre because I always feel good when I leave. It’s a very nice compliment. I told her how much I love it because that’s basically that’s what’s happening in my concerts.
“I want people to come in with whatever they’re feeling, whatever they’re thinking about in their lives, and we all have struggles and situations that bring us or weigh us down. I want people to leave my show lifted up to music and being thoroughly entertained.
“That’s what I want to bring to this inaugural fundraiser. And also because I have the theatre background, I do add an element of theatrics to it, which is always a fun experience. It’s not just hearing great music; you also leave with a message.”
The Aug. 20 benefit will also include a sneak peek of CTW’s upcoming season, featuring performances by Chicago actors Nate Lewellyn, Charissa Armon, Jake Bradley, David Gordon Johnson, Elisa Carlson, Taylor Dalton, Felipe Carrasco and 11-year-old Chayce Davis. CTW’s first season will open with the premiere of Wicked City (Oct. 6-30) by the Tony-Award nominated team of Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar. The second production is the world premiere of Creatives by Trainspotting scribe Irvine Welsh and American Skin author Don De Grazia (Feb. 10 to March 5, 2017). This acoustic pop opera features music from Simple Minds, Oasis, New Order, Happy Mondays and original music by Laurence Mark Wythe. The season concludes with the regional premiere of Little Miss Sunshine by James Lapine and William Finn (May 11 to June 4, 2017).
Though she names Chicago as a favored city, the Florida-born LaChanze admits there haven’t been enough occasions to visit in recent years. So, what might it take for a Chicagoland producer to lure this Broadway queen to town for an extended stay, other than making sure it’s not during the winter?
“I don’t really know,” she said, laughing. “They would have to pique my interest and offer it. But if there’s something they would like to see me in, I’d pack up my bags and come to Chicago, sure. I love it there!”
And so LaChanze will be entertaining offers at the Edge Theatre on Aug. 20, right after entertaining patrons with her 6:30 pm inaugural benefit concert for Chicago Theatre Workshop. Interested producers, artistic directors and patrons of musical theatre in Chicagoland may purchase tickets here.