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de'Adre Aziza

Age: 30

Hometown: Teaneck, New Jersey

Currently: Giving a Tony-nominated Broadway debut performance in a trio of key roles in the rock 'n' roll musical Passing Strange.

Jersey Girl: No wonder her mom calls her a "Yankee": Aziza's entire family is from Augusta, Georgia, and she was the first child raised in the North. A year after de'Adre—pronounced "Dee-A-dra," a fanciful variation on Deidre—was born, her mom got a job offer in New York, but "being from the country, she didn't want to move to the big city, so she moved to Teaneck," the actress explains. Aziza's mother enrolled her at age four in piano and ballet classes at the Harlem School of the Arts, and even took her to see Timbuktu! on Broadway when she was only two. But times got harder when mother and daughter got evicted and moved to a small room in a friend's house for a year when Aziza was 11. After that, she says, "It was constant struggle."

Public Speaking: In high school, Aziza, an aspiring doctor, joined the drama club without any desire to pursue acting professionally. But she was interested enough to apply to a theater program for high school kids at New York University—and got in. "That's when my fascination started with the Public Theater," she says of her summer in Greenwich Village, followed by admission to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Her guidance counselor told her she wouldn't get in, but she did. When Aziza got a call from the Public to audition for what became Passing Strange, she was thrilled. "They had my headshot on file for like five years and had never called for anything!"

Cooking with Stew: Singer/songwriter Stew kept a poker face during Aziza's audition. "He was so stone-faced that I left thinking, 'This guy hated me,'" she recalls. Instead, Stew snapped her up for the ensemble of his coming-of-age musical, which had its world premiere at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre followed by an acclaimed off-Broadway run at the Public and a late-summer concert at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. But the actress wasn't ready to give up her regular gig as a hostess at the fancy midtown restaurant Nobu 57 just yet. Hearing talk of Broadway, she vowed to believe it "when the paper's signed." In late 2007, she took time off from Nobu to play a pop singer based on Ronnie Spector in Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine at Playwrights Horizons. By the end of the run, Passing Strange was set to go into the Belasco Theatre.

Multiple Identities: Aziza plays three very different characters in Passing Strange: a flirtatious teenage girl in L.A., a free-living young woman in Amsterdam and a twenty-something avant-garde filmmaker in Berlin. "The great thing about the show is that it has a very Brechtian style, where you go in and out of the character," she says. Because there is no set change and no major costume changes, Aziza knew she'd have to rely on her voice and body language to differentiate the three women. The biggest challenge, she says, was to play German and Dutch characters without ever having been to Germany or the Netherlands. "I had to do a lot of research to get the accent down so it would be believable," she says. And then there were the songs: Aziza's singing has a "jazzy soul vibe," but Passing Strange is a rock musical with elements of pop, blues and gospel. Her songs, just like her characters, would require a multiplicity of voices outside her comfort zone.

First Date with Tony: Passing Strange's star and co-creator, Stew, has picked up four 2008 Tony nominations, and Daniel Breaker drew a Best Featured Actor nod for playing Stew's younger self. But Aziza was the only actress from the show to receive a nomination in the featured category. "I'm very appreciative, and I do feel like I've worked hard," she says, "but it's bittersweet because we are all so close. This is our third production together. We always talk about the fact that we vibe off of each other every night." The day the Tony nominations were announced, Aziza says she finally got the message: "It was the theater community saying, 'We like your work and we recognize your work.'"

Sweet! In addition to acting, Aziza writes her own songs, heavily influenced by Annie Lennox and European soul artists. "As a songwriter, I pray for inspiration, and I have a recorder in my phone," she says. "Every now and then a song will pop into my head out of nowhere and I'll record it real quick." Since Passing Strange made its way to Broadway, Aziza has had less time for her music. In addition to eight shows a week, she's the mother of a seven-year-old son, who has seen her performance. Although he didn't really understand the musical's plot, he did pick up on one catchy phrase used repeatedly by a smitten Daniel Breaker as Aziza's teen character ticks off a list of things she wants. Copying Breaker, her son now walks around the house saying, "Yes, brown sugar!"

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