In the Broadway musical \u201cSummer,\u201d Tony Award-winner LaChanze plays \u201cdisco queen\u201d Donna Summer as an older artist looking back on her life and career. Three actresses play the five-time Grammy Award-winner Summer at various stages of her life in the show which brims with a long string of hits Summer had in the \u201970s and \u201980s. (Summer, born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Boston, died in 2012 of cancer at the age of 63.) The look-back perspective as the older \u201cDiva Donna\u201d is something in which LaChanze can relate. \u201cThere\u2019s a line at the end of the show when I say, \u2018I\u2019ve played a lot of roles in my time,\u2019 and boy, there\u2019s a lot of LaChanze there, too,\u201d said the actress recently from her dressing room. It\u2019s a peaceful, cream-colored room, decorated with a set of nine Moroccan prayer bells. LaChanze, looking a decade younger than her 56 years, seems right at home as she cozies up on the couch for a talk about her life in Connecticut \u2014 and beyond. There\u2019s a lot of synchronicity with \u201cSummer,\u201d she says. The Lunt Fontanne Theatre, where \u201cSummer\u201d is playing, is the same venue where LaChanze made her Broadway debut 32 years ago in the unsuccessful musical, \u201cUptown\u2026It\u2019s Hot.\u201d She points to a framed photograph of that cast on the wall. \u201cI was third girl from the left,\u201d she says. Since that 1986 show, her track record has improved immeasurably. Her Broadway credits include the original production of \u201cOnce On This Island,\u201d where she earned her first Tony nomination. She also became the first person of color in a Broadway revival of \u201cCompany.\u201d Other main stem credits include \u201cDreamgirls,\u201d \u201cRagtime\u201d and \u201cIf\/Then.\u201d Off-Broadway she received an Obie Award for the musical \u201cDessa Rose.\u201d But her triumphant role was that of Celie in the 2006 production of \u201cThe Color Purple,\u201d which earned her the Tony. (She also received a Tony nomination in June as outstanding actress in a musical as \u201cDiva Donna\u201d in \u201cSummer.\u201d) Born Rhonda LaChanze Sapp, the actress-singer decided at the start of her career that her middle monicker \u2014 she was named after her grandmother, and its Creole meaning is \u201ccharmed one\u201d \u2014 had more marquee appeal. \u201c\u2018Rhonda Sapp,\u2019 now what does that sound like In the newspaper? \u2018Sapp sucks.\u2019\u201d She laughs. \u201c I didn\u2019t want that.\u201d LaChanze\u2019s family moved to Bridgeport when she was 12. \u201cI was the oldest of four siblings and my mother adopted three more of my cousins because my aunt died when she was very young. So I grew up with a lot of kids around me. I took solace in music and dancing. I would dress my siblings up in costumes and we would perform around the house.\u201d She also performed at Bridgeport\u2019s Warren G. Harding High School where she was a cheerleader, performed in the color guard and played Lola in \u201cDamn Yankees\u201d and Nina in \u201cDracula.\u201d Being close to New York also allowed her to see Broadway shows. Her first: the original \u201cChicago\u201d with Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. But it was when she received more formal training when she was a young teenager that LaChanze discovered her professional potential. That was at New Haven\u2019s Bowen\/Peters School of Dance, a celebrated center for young people, especially African-Americans, which Angela Bowen ran with her then-husband Ken Peters. \u201cI cut my teeth performing there and I studied ballet, jazz, tap and African movement and all sorts of other things. I credit her to help form me as an artist, creating my sense of competition, building my confidence, developing my work ethic, and my always needing to be the best. [Angela Bowen] was remarkable and had a profound affect on my choices.\u201d But it wasn\u2019t easy being in the school, she says. \u201cThere were times when she would put me back in my group of dancers if my technique wasn\u2019t as sharp as it needed to be. That challenged my ego and my sense of self. I so badly wanted to be the best so she really made me strive to be the best.\u201d (The arts center closed in 1982 after 19 years and Angela Bowen went on for a career as a scholar and advocate on lesbian, black and feminist issues. She died in July at the age of 82.) \u201cShe taught me quite a few valuable life lessons, too,\u201d says LaChanze. \u201cI remember coming to class one day and she was making me hold a dance position which was excruciating and she said to me, \u2019It\u2019s only pain. It will pass.\u2019 That little phrase stayed with me and I applied it to so many different areas of my life.\u201d But there was earned praise, too. \u201cThere was a moment when I was on stage and she cane up to me and she said, \u2018You are really becoming a beautiful performer.\u2019 She told me when I wasn\u2019t good and she told me when I was.\u201d LaChanze is now guiding her two daughters, Zaya, now in high school and Celia Gooding, who is an actress, and was featured in the new musical \u201cJagged Little Pill,\u201d which is inspired by Alanis Morissette\u2019s album, and which premiered earlier this year at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. They are both daughters of Calvin Gooding, a securities trader who was killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks in Tower One of the World Trade Center. \u201cI see through them a refection of myself,\u201d says LaChanze, \u201cand they make me think often about what I\u2019ve done with my life.\u201d And the most important piece of advice for daughters? \u201cKnow your value,\u201d she says. \u201cDon\u2019t let someone else tell you what that is.\u201d Another life marker for LaChanze was turning 50. \u201cOK, I had done great some great things, now what do I want? I love working on Broadway and being able to star in a show. But do I want to do Broadway for the rest of my life? Maybe \u2014 it\u2019s always been my first love, but maybe I want to do something else, like more TV and film. I have \u2018Melinda,\u2019 a mystery-thriller indie film that\u2019s going through the festival circuit now. I am also interested in developing my one-woman show about my life, \u2018Feeling Good.\u2019 And I\u2019m writing a memoir.\u201c But there\u2019s also the possibility of another Broadway show for next year, she says with a smile. \u201cThe 50s are about the time when you want to live a little bit more and in the living comes doing more of the things that I choose. Right now I\u2019m choosing to help my daughters transition to womanhood.\u201d And playing Donna Summer, too, she says, \u201cwho in her 50s was still glamorous and beautiful and sexy \u2014but also was someone who had lived a full life.\u201d Frank Rizzo is a freelance writer.