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Rose, Anika Noni

Anika Noni Rose

1972—

Actress, singer

Actress and singer Anika Noni Rose is living her dream. After struggling to make her big break on the stage, Rose found success on Broadway in 2003 in the critically acclaimed Tony Kushner musical Caroline, or Change, earning her first Tony Award only four years after debuting on the "Great White Way," as New York's legendary theater district is known. Following up with starring roles in the Academy Award-winning film Dreamgirls (2006) and the all-star Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (2008)—not to mention making history as Disney's first black princess (2009)—it seems the sky's the limit for the talented Rose.

Rose was born on September 6, 1972, in Bloomfield, Connecticut, the daughter of John Rose Jr., corporate counsel for the city of Hartford, and Claudia Rose. Her name (pronounced a-NEEK-a no-NEE), is Swahili in origin, Anika meaning "goodness" and Noni "gift of God." As a girl, Rose and her brother often went to New York City with their parents to see theater, dance, and opera performances. Although she was enthralled by the theater early on, it was not until she was cast in the musical Fame during her freshman year of high school that she considered treading the boards herself. In fact, her first love was music—in addition to singing, she also played the saxophone and trumpet in school bands—and she initially thought of pursuing a career as a recording artist.

Rose studied theater at Florida A&M University, earning a bachelor's degree in 1994. She went on to study acting at the prestigious American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco, completing a master of fine arts in 1998. At the Berkeley Repertory Theater she appeared in productions of Kushner's Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne and Athol Fugard's Valley Song. For the latter work she received the Garland/Drama-Logue Award and the Dean Goodman Choice Award. At the ACT she appeared in stagings of Robert O'Hara's Insurrection: Holding History, Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, and Molière's Tartuffe. In 1999 she garnered the San Francisco Bay Guardian Upstage/Downstage Award for her performances as Veronica Jonkers in Valley Song and as Polly Peachum in The Threepenny Opera.

Rose moved to New York City in late 1999 with big hopes of making it on Broadway. Within three months she had done just that, landing a job as a replacement in the role of Rusty in the musical Footloose at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2000. The following year she appeared in the musicals Me and Mrs. Jones, with Lou Rawls at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia, and Eli's Comin', an off-Broadway revue at the Vineyard Theatre. Her performance in Eli's Comin' brought her an Obie Award, given by the Village Voice for off-Broadway performances.

Although Rose was working steadily during this time—at her dream job, no less—she still struggled to pay the bills, often lacking money even for groceries. In an interview with the Hartford Courant, she recalled, "Here I was working six days a week, and I found myself having to jump [subway] turnstiles for a week while I waited for that check to come in. So no, it's never been easy."

Rose's fortunes—both professional and financial—took a turn for the better in 2003, when she was cast in the musical Caroline, or Change, by Kushner and Jeanine Tesori. Rose originated the role of the headstrong Emmie Thibodeaux, daughter of the title character, a black woman who is a maid for a well-off white family in pre-civil rights Louisiana. After a successful off-Broadway run, the production was transferred to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on Broadway for 136 performances and then to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Though the show had a short run, it was critically acclaimed and earned a number of Tony Award nominations. For her standout performance in Caroline, Rose took home the 2004 Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical, as well as the Theater World Award, Lucille Lortel Award, Clarence Derwent Award, Los Angeles Critics Circle Award, and a Drama Desk Award nomination.

Winning the Tony opened up new avenues for Rose. Hollywood director Bill Condon, who had seen her in Caroline, asked Rose to audition for his upcoming film Dreamgirls, and she scored the part of Lorrell Robinson, the third "Dreamette," starring alongside Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé. Though Rose already had several films to her credit—including the American Idol spin-off From Justin to Kelly (2003), Temptation (2004), and Surviving Christmas (2004)—her role in the Oscar-winning Dreamgirls marked her arrival as a star, bringing new and even more exciting roles.

For her next project Rose starred as the seductive Maggie in the 2008 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the story of a dysfunctional Southern family caught up in a web of lies. The production, which opened at the Broadhurst Theater, was directed by Debbie Allen and featured an all-black, star-studded cast: James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, Phylicia Rashad as Big Mama, and Terence Howard as Brick, in addition to Rose, a relative newcomer in the veteran ensemble. Though reviews of the production were tepid, Ben Brantley, writing for the New York Times, noted Rose as a bright spot: "Ms. Rose more than holds her own. She pretty much runs the show whenever she's onstage, and when she's not, the show misses her management." Comparing Rose to Elizabeth Taylor, who portrayed Maggie in the 1958 film version of the play, Brantley wrote, "It's her take-charge energy and unembarrassed directness that make this Maggie such a stimulating presence. When she exclaims, ‘Maggie the cat is alive!’ you can only nod in admiring agreement."

Rose received nominations for the Drama League Award and the Broadway.com Audience Award for her role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. More gratifying, perhaps, the production also proved a hit with audiences, especially among African Americans. Remembering an encounter with an elderly woman who had made her first-ever trip to the theater, Rose in 2008 told the Hollywood Reporter, "It is wonderful to have a black audience feel like there is a reason for them to come to Broadway and that their money is wanted, desired and appreciated. For so long, the subliminal message has been, ‘We don't even want your money because we're not talking about you.’"

At a Glance …

Born on September 6, 1972, in Bloomfield, CT; daughter of John Rose Jr. and Claudia Rose. Education: Florida A&M University, BA, theater, 1994; American Conservatory Theater, MFA, 1998.

Career: Stage and screen actress, 1998—.

Memberships: Actors' Equity Association.

Awards: Dean Goodman Choice Award, 1998; Garland/Drama-Logue Award, 1998; San Francisco Bay Guardian Upstage/Downstage Award, 1999; Obie Award, 2001; Clarence Derwent Award, 2004; Los Angeles Critics Circle Award, 2004; Lucille Lortel Award, outstanding featured actress in a musical, 2004; Theatre World Award, 2004; Tony Award, best featured actress in a musical, 2004.

Addresses: Agent—Don Buchwald and Associates, 10 E. 44th St., New York, NY 10017-3654.

Rose followed up her Broadway run with several films, including The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (2008), starring singer Jill Scott. In the animated film The Princess and the Frog, due for release in 2009, Rose gives voice to the role of Tiana, the first black Disney princess.

Selected works

Stage

Valley Song, 1998.

Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne, 1998.

Tartuffe, 1999.

Threepenny Opera, 1999.

Footloose, 2000.

Carmen Jones, 2001.

Eli's Comin', 2001.

Me and Mrs. Jones, 2001.

Caroline, or Change, 2003-04.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 2008.

Films

King of the Bingo Game, 1999.

From Justin to Kelly, 2003.

Temptation, 2004.

Surviving Christmas, 2004.

Dreamgirls, 2006.

Just Add Water, 2007.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, 2008.

Razor, 2008.

The Princess and the Frog, 2009.

Television

The Starter Wife (miniseries), 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Hartford Courant, March 2, 2008.

Hollywood Reporter, March 5, 2008, p. 4.

New York Times, March 7, 2008.

San Francisco Chronicle, December 10, 2006.

Online

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway, http://www.cat2008onbroadway.com (accessed July 24, 2008).

"Star Files: Anika Noni Rose," Broadway.com, http://www.broadway.com/gen/Buzz_Star_File.aspx?ci=36512 (accessed July 24, 2008).

—Deborah A. Ring

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