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Rising Star Maleah Joi Moon Prepares for Broadway Debut in Hell’s Kitchen

From On the Town to Rent and In the Heights, New York City has been the setting of so many Broadway musicals, each capturing the city’s distinct spirit and inspirational nature. Beginning March 28, a new Broadway musical will honor the unparalleled legacy of the Big Apple from someone who has long sung its praises: Alicia Keys’s Hell’s Kitchen. One look at the lyrics of her song “Empire State of Mind,” certainly considered one of the city’s anthems, proves how much love she has for her hometown.

Hell’s Kitchen, with a book by Kristoffer Diaz and music and lyrics by Keys, follows the coming-of-age story of a 17-year-old woman named Ali growing up in the titular neighborhood in the 1990s. Loosely based on Keys’s own story of growing up there during that time, the musical features many beloved songs from the 16-time Grammy winner’s catalog, including “Fallin’,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” “Teenage Love Affair,” and, of course, “Empire State of Mind.”

Following its hit run at the Public Theater last fall, the Michael Greif–directed musical is set to open April 20 at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre. The principal cast will reprise its performances from the Off-Broadway run: Shoshana Bean as Jersey, Brandon Victor Dixon as Davis, Kecia Lewis as Miss Liza Jane, Chris Lee as Knuck — and Broadway newcomer Maleah Joi Moon as Ali.

As Moon prepares for her Main Stem debut as the musical’s lead role, Broadway Direct got the inside scoop.

Your dad introduced you to Alicia Keys’s music. What was your favorite album or song growing up?

“Unbreakable” from the Unplugged album. Period. To this day it still puts me in a great mood every single time.

Which was the easiest song in Hell’s Kitchen for you to learn? Which song was the most challenging, and how did you unlock it?

The easiest song to learn was between “If I Ain’t Got You” and “No One,” as those were classic tracks in my household growing up. As for the most challenging, I’d say “River.” Not only because it was one of the songs [Keys] penned specifically for the show and I hadn’t heard it prior, but because of the emotional substance of the song. The struggle Ali feels as a teenager, learning how to navigate life, loneliness, and her desperation for freedom at that age was something I immediately connected to.

Alicia mentioned in her CBS Sunday Morning interview that you are from the New York area. What do you think it means to be a true New Yorker?

I think being a true New Yorker is many things, but to put it simply: the culture. Even though I was technically born and raised in New Jersey, having New Yorker parents who made sure I grew up in and out of the city showed me that the beauty of New York is in the people. The juxtaposition of the grit and the fierceness next to the spirit and livelihood makes me think of New York.

Is there any advice Alicia has given you during this process that has stuck with you?

It’s not exactly a specific piece of advice, but one time during rehearsal at the Public Theater in 2023, [Keys] took me upstairs to the LuEsther [Hall Stage] and simply asked how I was doing. At the time, I was so wrapped up with the show and the role that I honestly hadn’t checked in with myself or my spirit in a while. I breathed a sigh, finally letting it all out, and I cried. She sat me down crisscross-applesauce–style on the floor and taught me a breathing exercise and meditation that I still use today when I need to remember my light.

You met Shoshana Bean at the stage door when she was in Waitress. What is it like now acting together and developing the mother-daughter relationship in the rehearsal room?

Being such a big fan of Shoshana before becoming castmates honestly made it hard for me to be my true self in the beginning. I wanted so badly to impress her 24/7 because of how much I admired her. But she’s got such an ease about her. She sponsored authenticity from me with her warm spirit, and always made me feel protected. It was hard not to eventually melt into her while playing her daughter. I’m so grateful I get to call her my friend now.

What were the most important lessons you learned during the run at the Public?

Be present, be open, and drink lots of water.

What are you most looking forward to with your Broadway debut?

Looking out into the audience as Ali and seeing inner-city kids, urban kids, and little Black and Brown kids experience art that they can see themselves in.

What’s your favorite scene that you look forward to performing every night?

“The Gospel.” Ali spends so much of the show by herself, narrating the story, but during this number I get to feel a surge of love and energy from my castmates. It feels like magic.

Learn More About Hell’s Kitchen