Chicago-area native Keke Palmer will make history next month as the first black actress to play Cinderella on Broadway, beginning in September.
AP is calling this the 21-year-old's professional stage debut, although technically that's not quite true. I interviewed Palmer back in 2006, when she was promoting her starring role in "Akeelah and the Bee," and got the full back story.
"Born in Harvey," I wrote, "and raised in Robbins and Sauk Village, Palmer's first audition was for the extended Chicago run of 'Lion King' a few years back. She had zero acting experience before walking into the tryout.
"I was always singing in church," she said by phone (in 2006), "and we were reading in the paper about the tryouts and I decided I wanted to do it." Simple as that. All she had to do was sing. "Out of 400 kids, I made it to the last 15." Then she got cut.
Palmer had better luck the next time around. At American Girl Place, the doll retailer on Michigan Ave. that stages its own shows, she played Addy Walker, who escapes slavery with her mother and heads North. A movie role was next, as Queen Latifah's niece in "Barbershop 2,'" which was filmed on the South Side.
A career with prospects seemed imminent and the family moved to Los Angeles. "In two weeks," she said, "I had a national Kmart commercial and a guest spot on 'Cold Case.'" More recently she can be seen as the host of the BET talk show "Just Keke" and playing the nanny employed by Libby and Dr. Masters on Showtime's "Masters of Sex."Starting Sept. 9, Palmer will take on the title role in "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella," telling the AP that "theater offers so much more that I haven't been able to access doing film and TV and everything like that."