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Rhonda LaChanze Sapp, known professionally as LaChanze, was born in 1961 in St. Augustine, Florida. She is a Tony Award-winning Broadway actor best known for originating the roles of Ti Moune in Once on This Island and Celie Harris Johnson in The Color Purple.
LaChanze moved to Connecticut at a young age, enrolling in the Bowen Peters Cultural Arts Center in New Haven and attending Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport. She went on to study Drama at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, before transferring to major in Theater and Dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
LaChanze made her Broadway debut in the ensemble of Uptown…It’s Hot! in January 1986 and followed it up as part of the ensemble of the 1987 Broadway revival of Dreamgirls, also understudying the role of Deena Jones. Her breakthrough came with her Off-Broadway debut in May 1990, originating the role of Ti Moune in Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s musical Once on This Island at Playwrights Horizons. The production transferred to Broadway in October 1990, making a Broadway star out of LaChanze and earning her a Tony Award nomination and Theatre World Award in 1991.
She then played Marta in the 1995 Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company and assumed the role of Sarah in Ragtime, another Ahrens & Flaherty musical, in December 1998 (having already played the role in Los Angeles in 1997). She returned to Playwrights Horizons in the summer of 2000 to star in The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin and gave an Obie Award-winning performance in yet another Ahrens & Flaherty musical, Dessa Rose, off Broadway for Lincoln Center Theater from February through May 2005.
Following a 2004 tryout in Atlanta, she would finally win a Tony Award in 2006 after originating the role of Celie in The Color Purple on Broadway from November 2005 and remaining with the production for a year. Since then, she has returned to Playwrights Horizons for the 2009 production of Inked Baby, starred alongside Idina Menzel in the 2014 Broadway premiere (as well as the Washington, D.C. tryout and National Tour) of If/Then, and starred as "Diva" Donna Summer in the 2018 Broadway premiere (and pre-Broadway tryout in San Diego) of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, earning yet another Tony Award nomination.
LaChanze’s other stage credits include roles in New York City Center’s Encores! productions of Out of This World (1995), The Wiz (2009), and Cabin in the Sky (2015). She has appeared at the prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in Comfortable Shoes (1996) and Baby (2004). She recently originated the role of August in Atlantic Theater Company’s world premiere production of The Secret Life of Bees from May through July 2019.
Although primarily known for her work on Broadway, LaChanze has also appeared in the 2011 film The Help and voiced the role of Terpsichore, one of The Muses, in the 1997 Disney classic Hercules, reprising the role for the 1998 animated series. Other screen credits include The Cosby Show, Leap of Faith, Sex and the City, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Side Effects, and The Good Fight.
LaChanze returned to Broadway to star as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Mrs. Fezziwig in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre from November 7, 2019 through January 5, 2020. Her daughter, Celia Rose Gooding, is also a Broadway actor, originating the role of Frankie in Jagged Little Pill.