Such an enchanted arrival on the New York theater scene is almost unheard of, and realizing that her current wealth of opportunity is scarce, DeBose is determined to prove herself worthy of it. “I never want anyone looking at my work and wondering, ‘Why is she having this when they could have hired someone else? ” “, she says. “I never want to ask myself, ‘Have I done enough? “” It’s not the impostor syndrome, she assures me, but rather a perfectionist drive – the one that led her, for example, to refresh her last year, for her role as a old school teacher in Apple TV’s musical series “Schmigadoon!” (2021); between sets in Vancouver, she took Zoom classes and watched YouTube tutorials in her hotel room.
In other ways as well, there is something distinctly 21st century about DeBose’s career. As well as being an openly queer woman of African-Latin American descent, she bounced from role to role – often with little time to prepare – in a way that mirrors our current concert economy. In the 1960s and 1970s, a performer with her skills could have appeared in just one musical and riding the wave of her success for years, touring with the production worldwide and relying on the association. laureate. But DeBose’s ability to move quickly into roles reaped its own rewards: she won a Tony nomination and won a Chita Rivera Award – both for her last Broadway appearance, as Disco Donna, the one of the main roles in “Summer” – among others. distinctions. Her dancing in this show, as in each of her performances, had the precision and drive of a longtime performing arts child who ended her formal training just before the conservatory’s programs crushed her natural penchant for wild abandonment. And so she can put her mark on the choreographic work whether it is more demanding, as in “Hamilton”, or more loose, as in “Bring It On”. She also attributes her versatility to her talent for meeting directors and choreographers wherever they are. “Most of the creators are very intense, and each one has their own intensity, their own language,” she explains. “I think part of the reason I was able to keep booking jobs is that I chose to learn to speak other people’s artistic languages quickly. “
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And, yet, she admits she was nervous, understandably, when Spielberg called her to personally offer her the role of Anita, the Nuyorican bridal shop employee who runs “America,” the crackling hymn to the double consciousness of immigrants in “West Side Story”. “Not only am I remaking ‘West Side Story’, but I’m putting myself in Rita Moreno’s shoes – and she is loved not only by Latinos but by the entire industry and the music fandom,” DeBose said. “I really had to search my soul.” But Moreno herself – who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Anita in the 1961 film, and who both produced and played the role of Valentina, an updated version of the original’s Doc, in the new adaptation – encouraged DeBose to take ownership of the role and offered herself as a sounding board during production. “I really love the woman she is, and mentorship, especially for young women, is wonderful and hard to come by in this industry,” DeBose said.
Humility aside, DeBose says she would love to create a character and laments the lack of heavy dance roles created for new stars, naming Charity Hope Valentine (“Sweet Charity”) and Roxie Hart (“Chicago”) as the last of the great. A shy smile wraps around her cup of coffee when I ask her, citing Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle in 2021: “Who has this conversation? “- namely that of staging a revival of” Sweet Charity “. It’s a fool’s game to make any artistic project dream – especially when this project is a still unforeseen Broadway revival of a production from 1966 that doesn’t have much interest these days – but the idea of DeBose as a curvy dancer to hire who has “so much love to give” and longs for a brighter future with his two best friends , lingers for the rest of our conversation.