Since 2006, Valisia LeKae has been swinging and understudying in Broadway’s hottest shows. But now it’s her turn in the spotlight! On top of receiving rave reviews, she won a Theatre World award, an Outer Critics Circle nomination, AND a Tony nomination in her first original role on Broadway as Diana Ross in Motown The Musical.
MC: When did you catch the theater bug?
VL: I got into theater because a friend of mine, over ten years ago, sent me into an audition. I didn’t grow up in the theater; I grew up in church singing and [performing] in theme park shows. I think the first show I saw was Cabaret, but it didn’t dawn on me to go into that form of entertainment. But, like I said, over ten years ago, when my friend sent me into that audition, that one audition turned into many other opportunities for me. It just happened that way.
Did you do any training when you realized that you wanted to pursue musical theater?
I didn’t have any training. I grew up singing, performing in theme parks, and performing in different shows. So, as far as musical theater and acting training, I didn’t have it. I was a natural dancer, but not trained; I could move well. So, every show that I was in became a classroom setting for me; I learned different things in each setting and show that I was in to perfect my craft.
In 2006 you made your Broadway debut as a swing and understudy in Threepenny Opera. What did you learn about life as a Broadway performer while in that production?
I was in the show with a lot of Broadway veterans as well as some newcomers. I watched Jim Dale a lot. (Being a swing you get to watch a lot. I was also the dance captain of the show, so I had to watch and take notes as well.) Jim Dale is the ultimate performer. Even at his age—I think he was in his 70s when he was doing Threepenny Opera—he was so energetic, he had such a love for what he was doing, and such a respect for the artistry. I learned to be the best that I could be at every moment and second when I was on stage. Also, watching people like Cindy Lauper, who has such a magnificent vocal instrument and the love and passion for it. Alan Cumming who, once again, is a master of his craft. By watching everybody do what that did, the love and joy that they had for it, and the respect that they had for each other, [taught me a lot].
Currently, you’re starring as Diana Ross in Motown! How did the job come about? What was the audition song that booked you the role?
It came about a couple years ago. I got sides and music. If you are going to go in and play Diana Ross, you don’t want to sing anybody else’s music…I’m not going to go in singing a Whitney Houston song if I am going to play Diana Ross…I went in with “Stop in the Name of Love.” I knew a lot of her stuff anyway, just in case they asked me to sing anything else. I went in with that and I think they asked me to sing, “Remember Me.” It was not a difficult audition process. There were different things in my life that led me to that moment, so when I went in, I wanted to make sure that they didn’t have any question about who I was coming in for.
Did you do any research about her before the audition or the rehearsals?
I grew up with her music and I had the opportunity to sing her music throughout my life. But I did do a lot of research before the audition and continued to do research because we had a lot of workshops and readings. I wanted to go in there with as much knowledge about her as I possibly could. I’ve spent a lot of time researching her for the last 2 ½ years.
You were just nominated for your first Tony! What was your favorite part about the crazy Tony Awards season?
[Valisia laughs] Awards season is very, very busy. It goes from the Outer Critics to the Drama League to the Drama Desk to the Theatre World and the Tonys, so a lot is going on. And you’re doing a lot of interviews and a lot of press. My favorite part about the Tony Awards season was the Tonys’ luncheon (and obviously the Tonys). Tonys luncheon is the one event that you go to which is relaxed and there is not very much press. It’s just everybody there talking and eating. You’re picking up your Tony certificate, but it’s very low key. I had the wonderful opportunity to sit next to Tom Hanks. I was like, how did I end up with this golden ticket? We talked a lot at the table and he’s a very funny, charismatic, smart man, and very humble. It was the highlight of my Tony Award season, to sit next to someone who is so seasoned in producing, directing, and acting. And [the nomination] was for his first theater show. It was a wonderful experience.
Do you have a pre-show routine?
I like to stretch and vocalize. I love my dressing room really warm, so I usually turn on my humidifier and the heater. I run, stretch, and use my inflatable ball to do different activities with—just get my body going and loose. Then I go and put on my makeup. It’s pretty simple. I also like to meditate…
If you had the opportunity to be miscast in any show, what role or show would you want to be in?
Sideshow seems like an interesting show that I’d love [and I could] have a twin—two African American girls starring in that. Now-a-days, people are leaning towards untraditional casting, so the possibilities are endless. It’s the more historic things where it is a little bit harder to cross the line. My goodness, I don’t know. I have to think about that one!
What’s your advice for aspiring Broadway performers?
My advice for aspiring Broadway performers and anybody who seeks out a profession that they want to do is: first thing, believe in yourself. Never give up; keep working at it. Find different ways to learn more. Whether it is watching a show or taking opportunities that may not be financially the best or financially lucrative but may be an opportunity where you can learn from the people around you. It’s mainly about believing in yourself and continuing to never give up. If you believe in yourself, you’ll continue to do things that take you out of your comfort zone [that will] allow you to grow. ♦