Da'Vine Joy Randolph says she's been guided by good and powerful spirits.
There were the spirits of the African-American classical singer who inspired her when she was in high school, of an acting mentor who guided her from music to theater when she was in college, and of graduate school teachers who expanded her horizons when she was at the Yale School of
Now she's a spirit unto herself on Broadway as Oda Mae Brown, the fast-talking, fake communicator to the world beyond — who has more power than she knows — in "Ghost the Musical," now in previews and opening April 23. The show, which originated in Australia and London, is based on the 1990 romantic weeper film that starred
Sitting in her dressing room at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, Randolph, 25, recalls the moment late last summer when she learned she got the role, just a few months after she graduated from the Yale.
She was in the bathroom of the
Then her cell phone rang and her agent asked her, "Are you sitting down?"
"I hate when people say that," she says in a between-you-and-me voice that is part of her disarming, straight-forward personality. "'Noooo,' I said, 'I'm not sitting down so just tell me.' "
She thought the call might be about her audition for a role in a new
The agent told her she was going to be on Broadway.
"I don't know how to explain my reaction,' she says, quietly. "It was like — you know how you wake up from a deep sleep and you're slowly processing things like, 'Today…is…Monday…' It was like that. So I said, 'Broadway? Broadway? For what?' "
The agent said it for
Making things emotionally complicated was that she couldn't go public with the news until the producers formally announced casting — which would not come for several months.
"I would have dinner with my Yale classmates who would be complaining how hard things were and how they hated New York and I would say, 'Er…yeah, I hate it too."
Singing and Sports
Randolph grew up in
She remembers listening to
As "the good class clown, the one who didn't get in trouble, the girl who wasn't with any clique but friends with everyone" she says she preferred athletic games to the stage. When asked what sports she participated in, she says, "All of them."
When she was in high school she saw a choir of African American singers performing
She approached Lentz and asked for vocal training. She became Randolph's teacher and mentor for many years.
Through a classmate, Randolph became interested in Interlochen, the prestigious performing arts summer camp in Michigan.. "Everybody knew about that the place and that it was classically-based except me," she says.
The first day she auditioned for a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and was cast in the lead part. She went to bed that night "feeling really good" and woke up the next morning without a voice. "It was the weirdest thing and I still don't understand it."
She didn't have a voice the entire summer but says she felt the time was an important period for her. "It was very hard and humbling and I was sad — but it was also a gift from god."
She says it was then when she first started thinking of herself as an artist. "When a singer is silent it's a whole other thing and you're forced to sit with yourself. I became immersed in the music that was all around me. During those two months I felt as if I was getting my soul and essence prepared — and it's still a continual thing."
Miraculously, on the day of the show her voice returned and she stepped into the role. "That was like a religious experience," she says, still amazed.
At that point, she thought, 'Oh, I guess I'm supposed be a classical
In her junior year of college she discovered theater and switched her focus of her study.
Before then "I didn't even like theater people — though when I was younger I remember seeing 'Sweet Charity' and I thought those kids were having way more fun than I was."
In her senior year at Temple, Douglas Wager, a major figure in regional theater and teaching, took Randolph under his wing "and he taught me Theater 101." In her senior year, she was cast in leading roles in Stephen Adley Guirgis' "Our Lady of 121st Street," the title character in
Knowing she wasn't ready for New York and needed more training, Randolph applied to several graduate acting conservatories, not knowing much about any of them and oblivious to the pressure to be accepted into them. After her audition at the Yale School of Drama and a feisty interview, Ron Van Lieu, chairman of the acting department, sent her to the
She got the call inviting her to Yale. (She got calls from the other conservatories, too.) "It started to sink in that maybe this is something I can do after all."
The inability to see what others immediate find so apparent at Interlochen, Temple and Yale — "is something I have to work on. The realization [of what's at stake] tends to work on me after it's all over.
During her three years at Yale, Randolph played Masha in "The Seagull," Stella in
"Da'Vine had this incredible unteachable thing called presence and individuality," says Van Lieu. "It's just an innate thing. When she walks into a room she brings her unique presence. And then she has all these gifts and such a range as an actor: she's a gifted comedian, a well-trained singer and there's a very rich sensual side to her too."
What makes the "Ghost" casting even more noteworthy is that Bryce Pinkham — who graduated the year Randolph arrived at Yale — plays the role of Carl (played in the film by
A few weeks ago a group of about 40 Yale School of Drama teachers and alum caught a preview of "Ghost," followed by a party where "tears were flowing in both directions,' says Van Lieu. "I'm sort of surrogate proud father for both of them and seeing them on stage I had the same emotions that a parent does: feeling elated and incredibly proud."
"It's all been surreal,' says Randolph. "Everything has happened so fast. It still hasn't caught up with me." She says she is still processing the changes. "You can be new to the city, nanny-ing for two kids on the upper West Side, trying to make a buck, and then just like that — " she snaps her fingers " — your life changes
GHOST the Musical is now in previews at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St. New York. Information: http://www.ghostonbroadway.com