La Chanze
Birth Date:
St. Augustine, Florida, USA
Birth Place:
December 16, 1961
5' 6" (1.68 m)
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The Color Purple


American actress La Chanze rose to prominence after playing Ti Moune on the musical “Once on This Island” (1991), for which she also picked up a Theatre World Award  and a Tony and Drama Desk nominations. She gained even more recognition many years later thanks to her Tony Award winning role of Celie in Oprah Winfrey's production of “The Color Purple” (2005), based on Alice Walker's novel. She also received an Obie Award and a Drama Desk nomination for playing the title role on the play “Dessa Rose” (2005). Apart from her outstanding stage career, La Chanze has found time to work on several films and television productions.

La Chanze has been married twice. She has two daughters, Celia Rose and Zaya LaChanze, with her first husband Calvin J. Gooding, who was killed in the 9/11-attacks. She has one stepson from her next marriage to Derek Fordjour.      

Rhonda  La Chanze Sapp

Childhood and Family:

La Chanze was born Rhonda La Chanze Sapp on December 16, 1961, in St. Augustine, Florida. In August 1998, she was married to Calvin J. Gooding, a securities trader at Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower One of the World Trade Center. Her husband was killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks while she was pregnant with her second child. La Chanze married her second husband Derek Fordjou on July 30, 2005.

Once on This Island


La Chanze started her career on stage on the 1986 Broadway play “Uptown...It's Hot!”, created, directed, choreographed by and starring Maurice Hines. She then joined the cast of the Broadway revival of “Dreamgirls” (1987). La Chanza branched out to the small screen with a two episode role, as Sylvia, in the NBC hit sitcom “The Cosby Show” (1988, 1989).  

In 1990, La Chanze was featured as Ti Moune in the one act musical “Once on This Island,” which opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre on October 18, 1990 and closed on December 1, 1991, after 469 performances and 19 previews. Under the direction of Graciela Daniele, she won the Theatre World Award for her performance, and was nominated for a Tony Award in the category of Best Featured Actress in a Musical and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical.

In 1992, La Chanze made her feature film debut in “My New Gun,” where she played the small role of Kelly Jane. The comedy film was directed and written by Stacy Cochran and starred Diane Lane, James LeGros and Stephen Collins. Later that same year, she appeared as Georgette in the Richard Pearce movie “Leap of Faith,” opposite Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson and Lukas Haas. She played the role of Nora in the romantic comedy film “For Love or Money” (1993), which starred Michael J. Fox and Gabrielle Anwar and was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, and was cast in the drama film “David Searching” (1997), which starred Anthony Rapp, Camryn Manheim and Julie Halston. On television, La Chanze appeared as Dr. Weeks in two episodes of the NBC series “The Cosby Mysteries” (1994) and also made guest appearances in such series as “New York Undercover” (1996, as Mariah Barton), “Total Security” (1997, as Wanda Robitaille), “Sex and the City” (1999) and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (2000). She provided the voice of Terpsichore in several episodes of the animated TV series “Hercules” (1998) and in the direct to video film “Hercules: Zero to Hero” (1999).       

La Chanze returned to Broadway when she was cast opposite Boyd Gaines, Kate Burton, Robert Westenberg, Diana Canova, Debra Monk, Charlotte d'Amboise, Jane Krakowski, Danny Burstein and Veanne Cox in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's “Company.” The production, directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Rob Marshall, opened on October 5, 1995 at the Criterion Center Stage Right, where it ran for 60 performances. In 1998, she appeared in Broadway play “Ragtime,” a musical with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty.     

In 2001, La Chanze was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her performance in “Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin.” In the following year, she reunited with the original cast of “Once on This Island” to perform the show for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund. The show also featured  Lillias White as special guest. The same year, she appeared in the musical “Funny Girl.” La Chanze also appeared on the comedy/thriller film “Heartbreak Hospital” (2002), which starred Chelsea Altman, Patricia Clarkson and Diane Venora, and the made for TV film “Lucy” (2003), where she played Harriett.  

La Chanze's career gained an important encouragement in 2005 when she landed the leading role of Celie on the original Broadway production of “The Color Purple,” based upon the novel of the same name by Alice Walker. The role brought her a 2006 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. La Chanze also played the title role on the off Broadway production “Dessa Rose” (2005), directed and choreographed by Graciela Daniele. She received an Obie Award and a Drama Desk nomination in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her performance.

In 2009, La Chanze starred as Aunt Em and Glinda in New York City Center's Encores! Summer Stars series production of “The Wiz,” opposite Ashanti and Orlando Jones, and portrayed Gloria in “Inked Baby,” a play by Christina Anderson, at the Playwrights Horizons in NYC. The same year, she appeared alongside Zoe Lister Jones, Julie White, Andrea Martin and Peter Friedman in the romance film “Breaking Upwards,” directed by Daryl Wein.

In 2011, La Chanze was featured on the ABC daytime soap opera “One Life to Live” as Yvette Moreau. Besides, she appeared in the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's book, “The Help” (2011), directed and scripted by Tate Taylor. The film earned generally positive reviews from critics and was an unexpected box office smash.


Tony: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, “The Color Purple,” 2006
Obie: “Dessa Rose,” 2005
Theatre World: “Once on This Island,” 1991
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