LaChanze Trouble in Mind
LaChanze Trouble in Mind

LaChanze Talks the Timeliness of Trouble in Mind

LaChanze is headed back to Broadway — though it might not be in the way you would expect. The Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress, who most recently belted musical numbers in A Christmas Carol and Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, will lead a more critical story this October. Alice Childress’s play Trouble in Mind is a wry and moving look at racism, identity, and ego in the world of New York theater, and the actress will play Wiletta, an experienced stage actress at the center of the story.

Trouble in Mind first opened to critical acclaim Off-Broadway in 1955 and was announced to move to Broadway in 1957, but it never made the transition because Childress refused to rework the show to give it a happy ending. The play will finally open at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s American Airlines Theatre some 60-plus years later, with a message that still resonates. Broadway Direct talked to LaChanze about the importance and timeliness of this play, and what it means for her to lead on Broadway for the first time.

Why was it important for you that Trouble in Mind be your first show back on Broadway post-shutdown?

I’ve never been the lead of a play on Broadway. Having the opportunity to delve into a character that I’ve admired for so long is inspiring to me. This is a play that was written in the ’50s that never made it to Broadway because of the conflict that [writer] Alice Childress had with the producers of the time, wanting to make the white male lead a more favorable character, which isn’t necessarily the way that Alice Childress wrote it. Being a part of this classic American story and making it relevant for today is very important to me. Alice is one of our African American playwrights who I feel needs to be celebrated more.

When you first read Trouble in Mind, what was the exact moment when you knew you needed to be part of this show?

I am a huge fan of Alice Childress’s work. She’s able to authentically speak from the truth of a Black woman of a certain age, and I’m excited to embody Wiletta Mayer in this role, because I can identify with so much of who she is and how she’s written. I immediately engaged with this play because so much of her story is my story. I can relate to everything that she does. I can relate to every moment that she’s feeling on that stage — and this is 2021. She’s basically telling my story and the story of so many other actors in my position, in this business.

Are there any personal experiences you feel comfortable sharing that you will use to help immerse yourself in the character of Wiletta?

I most certainly will be pulling on my natural experiences. I have a few stories of my own. I don’t necessarily want to name any one particular person or story, but I will say that I have had experiences where I am a Black woman, playing a woman of certain age, and having a white male director tell me that he feels stronger about something that my character might say or do than I would as someone with the lived experience. And because he’s the director, I’d have to follow his direction. I can relate to not being heard by a director who is not open to the fact that I may understand the role better than he does. This has definitely been a recurring conflict for me.

The show examines racism and ego in the theater, an issue that still resonates today. Do you think the Broadway audience is ready for a play like this?

We’ve all had a chance to sit and think about all of America’s after the murder of George Floyd. I believe we all are looking for stories that are really reflecting the authentic lives of African Americans in this country, and this is one of those stories. This is a story of a middle-aged Black actress and what she has to negotiate while working in a play directed by white men, something that Black American actors have always had to deal with. Audiences and artists are both looking for roles that can show the diversity in the stories we live and share. We’re all ready for it.

You are part of a monumental theater season in which seven Black playwrights will have shows on Broadway. Do you think this is something that will continue and opportunities will continue to grow for people of color?

I’m a founding member of Black Theatre United, and we just recently published our New Deal for Broadway to help maintain the level of equity, diversity, and inclusion in each department of our industry. I do not think we’re going back. I don’t think any of us will allow it to go back. I think we are here; I think we’re ready to stay where we are, and this is not just a moment. Yes, it is exciting to have it done the way it is. But, I do feel we may be swinging the pendulum really far to the right, and we may find a middle ground, but I don’t think it’ll ever swing all the way back to the left like it was.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future of theater, Broadway, and beyond?

My personal hope for theater moving forward is that it can become equitable across all fields, not only for Black and other people of color, but for trans people and people with physical disabilities. I wish to see everyone and every story represented on stage. That’s my hope.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Learn More About Trouble in Mind