If Tracie Thoms' life was written as an old fashioned Broadway musical it would go something like this, 'Girl wants role, girl doesn't get role, girl REALLY wants role, girl finally gets role and then girl REALLY gets role…again.'
Sound complicated? Not so much. Tracie originally auditioned for the role of Joanne in the stage production of RENT but did not get cast at that time. In a satisfying karmic twist, Thoms was later cast as Joanne in the film version of RENT and has now returned to the stage to recreate the very role that eluded her those years ago in the final Broadway cast of RENT. It seems that this Baltimore, Maryland native and Julliard graduate was fated to play the role of Joanne on the Broadway stage. Nothing seems to slow her rapid rise as a performer as Tracy has continued to thrive on stage, TV and film and currently stars as Kat Miller on the hit CBS series COLD CASE. BroadwayWorld caught up with her and we spoke at length about her thrilling and inspiring 'Quest for Joanne'...
Eddie Varley: Here you are, once again bringing Joanne Jefferson to life, this time on stage, finally performing the role you've dreamt of for so long on the Nederlander Theatre stage.
Tracie Thoms: It's surreal, truly surreal. As people might know I had gone in for the role many times, but I think I was just too young, I don't think I was ready for it , I was very enthusiastic, they liked me, they kept calling me back every year, they just wouldn't cast me! So I was just giving up on my "quest for Joanne" , then the movie came along, and I decided that would be the last time going in for Joanne ever, that time for Chris Columbus (Director of the Rent film), and I got it.
EV: Winning the film role was such a victory for you, but what a long road it was to finally get there.
TT: That was surreal, and now to be in the final cast on Broadway is even more surreal, most people would think it would be the other way around, they'd do the show first then do the movie, if that ever happened, if they did both.
EV: Rarely does it go the other way around. As you went forward you built an multi-layered and successful career, you weren't waiting around in between Joanne auditions, yet the role was "always there", it continued to be a "quest" as you described it earlier. But how wonderful for an actor, to then win the film role of Joanne, that was huge.
TT: I can't, I…it's all, it's…if you had told me, standing in line in 1997, standing in line, all night long in the cold, to audition at 440 Lafayette , I drove all night from DC, cause I was doing Joseph there, I had two shows, I got in a car afterward with my friends and we drove up and got there around four or five am…and lost my voice. It was a journey just to get there, the line wrapped all the around to the McDonalds on 8th St. And I stood in line all morning until probably about noon, it was right around then that I lost my voice, so I had to get in the car and go back home.
EV: Did you always aspire to perform in musicals when you were younger?
TT: I remember when I saw Les Miz when I was around thirteen, and I was like, 'On my God, I need to do musical theater', and then nothing else really effected me that way until I saw RENT. Because there was an important story attached to the whole thing, and there was a role in it that I felt I could do, you know…also there are a lot of shows I love, Once On This Island and Dreamgirls, and I've done those shows. But with RENT there was this role I could do, there was this story and it moved me, it was very strange for something to really move me, as I'm sobbing out there in the audience, because I'm not that girl.
EV: Finding the role that forever dooms you, it grabs you…
TT: I was like that about Les Miserables for awhile, but I had to comes to terms with the fact at that time they weren't looking to put black people into Les Miz…
EV: Now it's open to everybody!
TT: I know, they finally got multi culti, but at the time they weren't doing that yet, unless you were a huge star, and I was ,ok, I get that, it's France, I get it, and I was able to sing the music from Les Miserables all the time, so that was enough for me. With RENT it was the whole story, it wasn't necessarily just Joanne either , you know, was I going maybe, I could play Mimi, but I got it at the time that Mimi was Latin, period. So it was Joanne, that's me, that's my part. And I'm gonna get it, I really didn't focus on the description that Joanne was a lawyer, had already graduated Harvard and was 22, I didn't care!
EV: That was just going to be your character.
TT: That was just going to be my character, right, I got her, I understood her, I'm a control freak like her. I just 'got her', so I started that quest, and auditioned probably about 9 times, which when you are a musical theater actor in New York City, is actually not a lot of time when you are auditioning for a certain part.
EV: A good friend auditioned for the original production of Les Miz 17 times!
TT: Yeah, it's not a lot, so people, if they are not in the circuit here think it is a lot of times auditioning, but its actually not. Some of the people in the cast now are like it was my 12th audition by time I got the show. It was more the fact that it was over such a long period of time, I my first audition for RENT was, well I had originally saw it in January 1997, and my first audition was in April of that year, it was still cold.
EV: It was such an early time regarding Rent itself …
TT: Right, it was, they had just won the Tony and the original cast was still in it, and they were just trying to replace the original cast, so those first replacements were like a carbon copy of the original actors in some ways, to serve the characters the same way. But eventually, over time, they started exploring other ideas, and then I auditioned again that summer for it. In the meantime I had gotten the invite to join the class at Julliard that year, but I was so burnt out, because I was at Howard University at the time and I just didn't feel like going to school again, but it was Julliard so I pretty much had to go..
EV: When you get that nod you really do have to go be a part of it.
TT: You have to do it, but the only thing that would of stopped me honestly was RENT, I had thought well, If I get RENT, I would won't go, I'll skip Julliard and go straight to Broadway, or whatever…and I got until the final call back that time, that final audition was with Michael Greif. Again I was doing a show in DC at the same time, I was doing HAIR, and lost my voice again! But, the week before that audition it was very weird , all the signs were telling me, 'not yet'.
EV: Fate protects you sometimes, it keeps you from what you truly want until you are ready, and now look, the film role, the final cast, it was fated.