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"Chicago" star's music and theater roots come from Detroit

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2018

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When Jennifer Fouche was growing up in Detroit, it "never occurred to me to be an actor."

But now that she is, Fouche wouldn't have it any other way.

"It has been a blessing beyond words," Fouche, 47 — who plays Mama Morton in the touring company of "Chicago," headed to Detroit's Fisher Theatre this week — says by phone from her current home in New York. But acting actually "found me" during her early 30s after a successful run as a singer, working with Motown veteran Hank Crosby and with Inner City and others on techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson's KMS label.

"I wanted the kind of career Whitney Houston had, that Aretha Franklin had. THAT was my intention," Fouche explains. "But then the (music) industry changed and became something that was no longer compatible with my sprit or my artistic expression. My heart was breaking, but I knew I wasn't going to be able to have the kind of career I knew I wanted.

"But I don't traffic in regret. I'm so happy now. In a lot of ways, as much as I loved singing, I'm happier as an actor."

The theater stage was not foreign to Fouche, who grew up on the west side of Detroit and attended the Waldorf School and Lutheran High East before Michigan State University. Her mother studied for a bachelor of fine arts degree at Wayne State University when Fouche — whose father is a retired Detroit police officer and civil rights attorney — was a toddler. She recalls that "I really grew up backstage at the Hillberry Theatre."

Fouche's music life included stints with jazz saxophonist Randy Scott, trumpeter Johnny Trudell and his orchestra and others, and she had a minor hit in Europe with her single "Now is the Time." But when that dream began to fade 15 years ago, she was left "devastated."

"I didn't know what to do," Fouche remembers. "I was an artist with no platform."

But a road manager noticed that the Broadway touring company of "The Lion King" was holding auditions in Cincinnati, where Fouche was living at the time, and suggested she give it a try. "I'd always wanted to be on Broadway," Fouche says, "but figured I'd get there grandfathered in after I sold millions of albums, like Toni Braxton or Vanessa Williams."

She showed up but didn't get a part ("I was too tall," she remembers), but the same Cincinnati Black Theater Company space where she auditioned was also holding tryouts for "A Tribute to Motown," for which Fouche landed a role portraying Martha Reeves.

"They thought I had so much 'personality' that they expanded the role and added some lines besides just the songs," Fouche says. "At this point I'm petrified because now I had to say words not sing them. I wasn't even in a high school play. I had no idea if I had any aptitude for acting."

It turns out she did. After Crosby introduced her to Reeves for some background, Fouche became a standout in the production — so much so that after opening night her mother told her, "I have no notes. You were brilliant."

"In that moment it was solidified that, 'OK, I'm going to do this," she says.

That initial success led Fouche to New York in 2005 to study in a two-year accelerated program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. "I had enough respect for the field I knew I needed to study it," she says. It was clearly the right move. Coming out of the AADA Fouche joined an acting troupe called the Amoralists, debuting in a play called "Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter."

And she hasn't looked back since. Fouche is proud of the fact that in her acting career "the longest I've been out of work is nine days," and her résumé includes originating the role of Roberta in the Off-Broadway hit "Sistas, the Musical," playing Brutus in an all-female version of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," "Babes in Toyland" at Lincoln Center, "Hamlet" in New York's Bryant Park, the Marvel TV series "Jessica Jones" and the play "Half Me Half You." She also voices a character in the upcoming PBS children's show "Pinkalicious and Peterrific."

"Chicago," meanwhile, is her first Broadway musical, "An incredible validation," Fouche says. And she hopes it's a stepping stone toward the Great White Way itself as well as to other wish-list ambitions such as "Hello Dolly," voicing a Disney character and being in a James Bond movie.

"I didn't start there, but now I love nothing more than getting on stage and doing all the preparation that has to be done, whether it's glamming it up for 'Chicago' with 3-inch lashes and red lipstick or playing a bag lady," Fouche says. "I changed careers when I was 34, and I think the most tragic thing in the world is thinking that there's some expiration date on the things we want to do in life.

"I'm proof there isn't."

If You Go: "Chicago" runs Tuesday through Sunday, Oct. 16-21, at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $39-$94. Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.BroadwayinDetroit.com

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