You can currently catch the fabulous Ariana DeBose shining bright and lighting up the stage as sparkling ’70s queen “Disco Donna Summer” in Broadway‘s Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Her past stage credits include mega hits like Hamilton, A Bronx Tale, Bring It On: The Musical, and more, but the performer’s latest role has earned her a 2018 Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. To celebrate this milestone honor, Celeb Secrets caught up with the 27-year-old star to hear all about her latest work, her passions onstage and off, and the advice she’s picked up throughout her whirlwind career. Check out our exclusive Q&A below.
I think this musical — a story about a woman, a woman of color, with a feminist standpoint — is exactly the type of show that should be on Broadway right now. Donna’s story is a great reminder that while we’ve come a long way, there’s still a long way to go.
Celeb Secrets: Congratulations on your well-deserved Tony nomination! How did you react when you first got the news, and has it sunk in yet?
Ariana DeBose: Absolutely not! I was shocked so naturally I burst into tears 🙂
Celeb Secrets: What does it mean to you to be recognized among such a powerful group of women this year?
Ariana DeBose: To be recognized at all in this season is an honor. But I will say, to be recognized in this particular category alongside women I have respected for so long is really cool. Ashley [Park] and I were audition buddies; I’ve watched Lindsay [Mendez] churn out beautiful work year after year, and I mean Renee Fleming and Diana Rigg are legends in their own time! So I’m just happy to be included at the party.
I also think it’s interesting to note how different we all are. We’ve all been recognized for vastly different roles, all with different requirements. I’m really proud to be able to rep the triple threats of the world!
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< 2018 #TonyNominee > I’m shocked & awed! It’s such an honor to be included in this powerhouse group of women. Thank you @thetonyawards for this recognition. I’m thrilled to be able to represent @donnasummerbway & even more so to do it alongside @mslachanze (#tonynominee for best actress in a musical)! So proud. HUGE CONGRATS TO ALL THE NOMINEES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You’re all inspiring superstars💙💙💙 #tonyaward #bestfeaturedactressinamusical #discodonna #macaurthurspark #dimallthelights #blackgirlmagic #dreamscometrue
Celeb Secrets: What would you say are the top key points from “Summer” you hope really resonates with audiences?
Ariana DeBose: I hope people are reminded that all that glitters isn’t gold. Donna Summer was the disco queen and a 70’s icon, but that didn’t come with out its fair share of challenges. She was a mother, a business woman, she made hard choices and she made some big mistakes too. Ultimately I hope people are reminded that our heroes are not infallible.
Celeb Secrets: What’s your favorite part of playing Disco Donna, and are there any ways that you relate to Donna Summer’s story?
Ariana DeBose: I don’t know if I can pin it down to one “favorite” thing! I love playing the duality of who she was; disco queen and flawed human. It’s fun. And truth be told I identify with a lot of Donna’s story, but the biggest point that resonated with me was that she never wanted to be pigeon-holed, and neither do I. In fact, that’s what I I’ve been working for since I left Hamilton. I wanted a new challenge, to try something different. I had to make hard choices along the way, and when boiled down, that’s not completely unlike the circumstances Donna found herself in. Granted I’m no 70’s icon!
Celeb Secrets: Why do you think it’s important that this musical is on the Broadway stage at this particular moment in time, being seen by modern audiences?
Ariana DeBose: I think this musical — a story about a woman, a woman of color, with a feminist standpoint — is exactly the type of show that should be on Broadway right now. Call it what you will, jukebox musical or otherwise, but elements of this show people are witnessing took place not that long ago. Folks are being reminded of the good times that were had through Donna’s music. Let us not forget she was a woman of firsts who essentially gave birth to a new sound. A new generation is discovering her music.
I also think Donna’s story is a great reminder that while we’ve come a long way, there’s still a long way to go. And yes, it’s 2018. Time is Up. We women do work hard for the money, and to see a female driven story on Broadway right now with three black, female leads is exactly the type of show we should be offering to audiences.
Celeb Secrets: Growing up, did you always feel like you were destined for the stage, or were your performing talents something you gradually uncovered?
Ariana DeBose: I’ve been dancing since I was in the womb apparently. I always knew I wanted to dance and perform, but I didn’t discover my love for theatre until high school. And I didn’t really find out I could sing until I got to NY.
Celeb Secrets: If you could go back and tell your younger self about where your career is right now, how do you think she’d react?
Ariana DeBose: I think she’d be really excited! And then she’d be really nosey and ask a bunch of questions trying to figure out how she was gonna get there!
Celeb Secrets: Do you have any advice to impart on your younger self, if you had the chance?
Ariana DeBose: I would tell her to try not to take things personally. Most of the time it isn’t about you. Everyone you meet has their own struggle, so have courage and be kind.
Celeb Secrets: Do you remember the first Broadway show you saw, and what the experience was like?
Ariana DeBose: My first Broadway show was RENT and all I remember is that I wanted the cheetah coat one of the dancers was wearing so bad!! And the blue shorts; I really wanted those blue shorts!
Celeb Secrets: Has there ever been a point in your career where you felt discouraged, and if so, how did you push through it?
Ariana DeBose: There have been quite a few moments where I’ve felt discouraged. Many, many moments! But every time I’ve felt that way I let myself have a good cry, which I believe you earn when you pour your heart into something. It’s okay to feel your feelings. Then I try to go see a show or a movie that reminds me why I wanted to be a performer. It’s like magic for me. If I can remember why I started and recharge, then I can keep going.
Celeb Secrets: Have you ever had a great role model or mentor along the way who helped you stay focused and grow?
Ariana DeBose: I’m lucky to have many mentors! When I was first getting started that person was Charlotte d’Amboise. She would encourage me to continue to train, help me prepare for auditions and give a bit of tough love when I needed it. She’s always been a great source of advice for me.
Celeb Secrets: Similarly, do you remember the first time someone ever took a chance on you, and what that meant to you?
Ariana DeBose: Yes, I do. When Eric Sciotto cast me as Aida in a high school production of AIDA, I was a freshman at the time who wasn’t sure she could hold a tune. But he put his faith in me and held my hand through the process. It was terrifying. I didn’t want to let him down, so therefore I worked even harder. It was the experience that changed my life.
Celeb Secrets: What are some of your passions outside of the theater?
Ariana DeBose: I’m very passionate about LGBTQ+ advocacy. As of late I’ve had my hands full with the show but when I can donate my time or volunteer, I do. It’s important to protect our youth’s rights and encourage them to discover who they really are. That’s the kind of environment I grew up in, and I think it made all the difference in who I’ve become.
Celeb Secrets: Since we’re Celeb Secrets, would you be able to share a fun secret about yourself fans may not know?
Ariana DeBose: Well, according to Pottermore…I, Ariana DeBose, am a…Slytherin. And so was Merlin, so I consider it a strength 😉 #SNAPE4ever.
Be sure to stay tuned for Celeb Secrets’ extensive coverage of the 2018 Tony Awards, which are all happening live from New York City on Sunday, June 10. Here’s how to watch.