Anika Noni Rose
(© Tristan Fuge)
Anika Noni Rose
(© Tristan Fuge)
A woman of many talents, Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose will be showcasing her gorgeous singing voice on Monday, April 27 at Carnegie Hall when she performs as part of the New York Pops 26th Birthday Gala, alongside Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Feinstein, Cheyenne Jackson, Idina Menzel, and Ashford & Simpson. TheaterMania recently spoke to Rose about taking part in this historic event, as well as her hit HBO series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, working for Disney, and her future theatrical plans.

THEATERMANIA: You and Idina Menzel will be premiering a new piece called American River Suite by Stephen Flaherty and William Schermerhorn. How did this job come about?
ANIKA NONI ROSE: Bill called me to be part of it, and I've worked with him and Stephen before, so told him I would definitely be there if I could. Stephen's music is so beautiful, and it's nice to do something brand new like this where you can put in your own flavor. Plus, I just love singing with an orchestra like the Pops. It's not so much about you standing in front of them, because you can literally the feel music coming through your body.

TM: What does it mean to you to be performing in Carnegie Hall?
ANR: Carnegie Hall is so joyous for a performer because it has the best acoustics in the world. Sometimes, even in theaters, it feels like you're singing in your closet. So to be in a room where people really thought about sound is special.

TM: The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is actually filmed in Botswana. What was it like working in Africa?
ANR: We shot the pilot in 2007, and then we went back there in the fall of 2008 for the next few episodes. Jill Scott and I had never been to Africa before the pilot, and so our director, Anthony Minghella, took us out to a camp with no electricity and where we slept with hot water bottles and you could hear lions in order to have us learn what Africa was. Not everyone would have allowed us to do that -- to spend a few days not worrying about learning our lines. That was just an amazing bonding experience for us, for which I will forever be grateful. There's a large film industry in South Africa and much of our crew came from there, particularly on the pilot, and during that time we trained a lot of the people who later became our crew. So it's been great to help create an industry and allow it to expand. And all the people have been so thrilled to have us there. I went into a summer musical theater camp to visit, and as soon as these young kids realized who I was, they recited my lines even though they'd only seen the pilot once. I was honored.

TM: What do you think the biggest difference is between Africa and New York?
ANR: It's so much calmer over there that your entire energy changes. When I first came home, I kept feeling like I was constantly being ruffled on the street. It also makes you think about the things we are so intense and urgent about; if you don't get your sandwich at the deli for 10 minutes, the world won't come to end. But after a while, if you don't get back into the New York City rhythm, you can get run over in the street.

Anika Noni Rose in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
(© HBO)
Anika Noni Rose in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
(© HBO)
TM: Your character, Mma Makutsi, is quite a departure from your previous roles. Was that a conscious career choice on your part?
ANR: Yes. I love that she's this weird and quirky woman, and it was great to step into her shoes on the heels of the glamour of Lorrell in Dreamgirls and the southern charm of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I like to make 180-degree turns as much as I possibly can, so I can sharpen my craft as much as possible. I think having to play just a different version of myself every day would be like wearing the same socks every day. Eventually, they'd get dirty and you'd have to change them.

TM: The show's reviews have been very good. Do you think that will mean another season -- and is that something you want?
ANR: It's thrilling to me that people are excited about this show. I think it was time for something different -- there's been enough killing on television -- so I feel we were lucky to come in when we did. I think it will be picked up, and that would be great. But, I don't know what's happening and since there's nothing I can do about it, I'm just moving on with other projects. Plus, let me tell you, free time is underrated.

TM: In November, you'll be seen as the lead character, Princess Tiana, in Disney's animated film The Princess and The Frog. Is this a dream come true for you?
ANR: Absolutely. First, it's thrilling to be part of something that little kids and families can see and enjoy, since some of what I've done is purely for grown-ups. But Disney is so much a part of our culture that to have my chance to make a deposit in that bank is amazing enough. And to be the first African-American lead and a princess is indescribable. I love Disney so much that I'd play a blade of grass for them. They are going to have to kick me out of their studios.

TM: What do you think about the controversy that your prince (voiced by Bruno Campos) isn't African-American?
ANR: His nationality isn't specified nor is it relevant. It's about love. Plus, this is 2009 and we're a mixed country -- so any of this shouldn't matter. That's all I have to say.

TM: I know your fans would love to see you take part in the City Center Encores upcoming production of The Wiz in any capacity. What are your thoughts?
ANR: I grew up listening to The Wiz. My mother had the record, and it's in my bones. There's not a song I can't sing, including the tornado part. I can do it right now if you want. But if I am going to be in it, I'm going to be Dorothy. We'll see. I'm not the producer.

TM: So after a break of over a year, are you ready to go back to theater?
ANR: Definitely. I feel so blessed to go back and forth among all the different media. But theater is my heart and home; it keeps me strong and vital. I'm just looking for something good. Someone spoke to me recently about doing Ophelia, and I was sorry I didn't have time to do it, because I had so many ideas. But Rosalind would be good too. Really, there are so many great roles I'd want to try.