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To ‘Hamilton’ and Beyond: North Carolina Native’s Broadway Star Continues To Rise

Joan Marcus, 2016
Cast from "A Bronx Tale" featuring Ariana Debose (center) and Gilbert L.Bailey II, Bradley Gibson, Trista Dollison, and Christiani Pitts (L-R)

Ariana DeBose has been moving up in the Broadway world by leaps and bounds. The North Carolina native got her start in showbiz with a role on the television show "So You Think You Can Dance" when she was only 18 years old. Just a few years later, she became one of the original ensemble cast members of the hip-hop Broadway sensation "Hamilton.”

Credit Ariana DeBose

Today, she is on stage as the lead female role in the Broadway musical "A Bronx Tale." Guest host Anita Rao talks with DeBose about the physical pressures of life on Broadway and how she decides which stories are worth telling.


On starting college a semester late after a run on “So You Think You Can Dance”:
Heading into that year with a group of individuals who had already made their friendships was really hard, and I felt lonely. I had just come off a semi-professional experience and all of a sudden I thought, ‘Well I can work professionally. Why am I going to school to learn how to do something that I already do and do well?’ So I believe I stayed for three months. Long enough to do their musical. And I left and went to New York and got a job the day that I landed. So I took that as a very good omen.

On how her family fostered her confidence:
I fly by the seat of my pants, but I’m really acting on instinct. And I give credit to my mom for that. She was always really quick to let me know that if I wasn't feeling something, or if something really did not feel right, that I should follow my heart and follow my gut, which I’ve done. And it was the best bit of advice I think I’ve recieved. I have a very strong intuition, and I turn down jobs when they don’t feel right. If something is just not kosher, you not gon’ see me around.

On the physical challenge of performing in “Hamilton”:
The physical maintenance each dancer goes through to just simply show up to work to be able to perform the show is great. I sustained two injuries while I was a part of the company, and throughout that time I went to physical therapy three times a week. I [went to] my acupuncturist twice a week. I went to the chiropractor at least once a week. I changed the way that I ate. I had a very specific diet that I followed. I couldn’t eat certain foods. I couldn’t eat at certain times of the day. It was a whole lifestyle change just to make sure that I could walk in to do the show.

On the politics of playing ‘Jane,’ her character in “A Bronx Tale”:
There’s a moment in our show when a grown white male yells at Jane and tells her to go back to where she came from. And it’s jarring, because in so many different places that very thing is still happening. We still have Americans telling other Americans to go back to where they came from. So to be a young bi-racial, LGBTQ, lady-lovin’ woman today and to walk outside and have to face the fact that in some parts of my country – because I am America – I am not accepted. And there are people who would tell me to go back to where I came from. 

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
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