Talk about a premonition. The first Stephen Sondheim musical Joaquina Kalukango saw was Into the Woods. “It was at a one-act play competition when I was in high school,” she says. Now she's playing the Witch on Broadway. "To be honest, I don't think it was until this iteration where I could really see myself in this role,” she tells EBONY. She's ready for a bewitchingly good time in her latest role. "It’s delicious,” she declares. “It's so fun, light and joyful.”
Kalukango is putting just enough of her own spin into the part. “You can't switch Sondheim up too much. He's electric,” she declares. “We wanted the witch to feel more real, like a mother. She's just someone who's so brutally honest and turns on a dime with her emotions. That's the fun of the play, her wit and quickness.” The Juilliard-trained actress is honored to be following down the path of great performers who have played the role, such as Phylicia Rashad, Vanessa Williams, Heather Headley and Patina Miller. She's also eager to wrap her powerful pipes around the witch’s ballad “Stay With Me” which the witch sings to Rapunzel after the girl disobeys her stepmother. “It starts off with just pure rage, like what did I tell you not to do," Kalukango laughs. “And then the witch is pleading with her daughter to 'stay with me.' It's a weird ride of emotion.”
Kalukango starred in Broadway's thought-provoking drama Slave Play, and then won the 2022 Tony Award for "Best Leading Actress in a Musical" for her outstanding work in Paradise Square, which depicted a little-known area in New York City where Irish immigrants and Black Americans lived in harmony together in the 1860s. So let’s get to that question: where does she keep kept that shiny gold statuette? "It's on my desk in my office until I put it somewhere else, but I just keep it there.”
As for winning the next one, Kalukango would love it to be for another original part. “Paradise Square was a dream role for me. It was an original show. And I'm a champion of original works. I think that there's beauty and such a different energy in creating something from the ground up. I love and wish people would celebrate and support more original works that are coming to the stage. They're fresh and new, and we need it.”
Kaulokango premieres as the Witch in Into the Woods on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on December 16, 2022.