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This n that

Janet Langsam

I first met the Tony award-winning actress LaChanze in her hometown of Mount Vernon. I was taken in that this star of the Broadway musical “The Color Purple” had chosen Westchester as her home and that she was so devoted to this community. It was 2007, the year of the Triple Hill Music Festival in Mount Vernon and LaChanze didn’t hesitate when asked to spend an hour or two telling a group of high school students how she got her start in show business. She told them how she took a risk, left college to follow her “Dreamgirls,” and then quickly cautioned the kids against doing as she did. The kids were charmed by her honesty. I was touched by how she reached every kid in the room. This is a woman who came up through the ranks, found her voice, lost her first husband in 9/11, moved on with her life, family and career, and even wrote a children’s book, “Little Diva.”

So it was no great surprise to find her the other night singing and strutting on stage at the White Plains Performing Arts Center (WPPAC) for the theater’s  “Love Is In The Air” gala. There she was with a rose in her hair and a cadre of Broadway pals, doing her all for what board Chairman John J. Ioris called “a celebration of live theater in White Plains.” It was sweet on a Sunday night in February to celebrate live theater again as I had on Friday night at a performance at the Emelin Theater in Mamaroneck. Suddenly, it dawned on me – two nights in one weekend of live theater in Westchester was inconceivable some years ago. And now, along with the WPPAC and the Emelin, there’s Axial Theater, Schoolhouse Theater, Red Monkey Theater and the opportunity to see real live theater often in our own backyard. And it gets even better than that.

Margaret Preston, Ken Jenkins and Janet Langsam.

Friday night’s performance at the Emelin was produced by the Purchase Repertory, a group of about a dozen college theater majors who hail from Texas, Washington, D.C., Michigan, South Carolina and California, all because they said “it’s the best place to prepare for a career in the theater.”  While you may be too late to see “Durang, Durang,” Friday night’s hilarious play, you are still in time to catch two more productions in March. The real good news is that right here in Westchester, Purchase College is developing young new talent for the stages here and on Broadway. So it was fun to see Purchase President Tom Schwarz and Emily Grant, chair of the Purchase Foundation, “kvelling.” For those not in the know, you “kvell” when your kid(s) make you prouder than you ever thought they could.

And on Sunday, Ann Bernstein, Susan Egginton and LaChanze were also “kvelling” as co-chairs of the WPPAC event, whose guests included Margaret Preston of U.S. Trust, Bank of America; former Mayor Joe Delfino; Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins; Derrick Fordjour, an artist, filmmaker and husband of LaChanze, and 250 others cheering the new direction of the theater.

From March 8-13, The Purchase Repertory will present “Three Birds Alighting on a Field,” a hilarious new play  about art collectors, artists, dealers and critics in 1990s London. From April 26th through May 1st, the Purchase Rep shows a more serious side with Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children.”  Tickets can be obtained at www.artscenter.org.  From March 17 through April 3, WPPAC presents a world premiere of  Renovations.

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