AP Breakthrough Entertainer: Joaquina Kalukango, in paradise

Dec 14, 2022, 7:13 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2022, 1:24 pm

              Joaquina Kalukango poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in New York. Kalukango has been named one of The Associated Press' Breakthrough Entertainers of 2022. (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)
              Joaquina Kalukango poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in New York. Kalukango has been named one of The Associated Press' Breakthrough Entertainers of 2022. (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)
              Joaquina Kalukango poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in New York. Kalukango has been named one of The Associated Press' Breakthrough Entertainers of 2022. (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)

Joaquina Kalukango poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in New York. Kalukango has been named one of The Associated Press' Breakthrough Entertainers of 2022. (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)

(Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Winning a Tony Award as best lead actress in a musical cemented Joaquina Kalukango’s place in the Broadway firmament. But it also, surprisingly, cemented Kalukango’s belief that she could actually do musicals.

“It was truly a powerful moment, especially for me, because I had such a fear of doing musicals for a very long time. I was an actor at heart,” she says. “I think it was a great moment in my trajectory of owning a new side of myself that I wasn’t that comfortable with sharing for a while.”

Kalukango’s show-stopping performance in “Paradise Square” and especially her heart-felt searing second act song “Let It Burn” routinely drew audiences to their feet, a triumph of the 2021-2022 season.

Kalukango’s astonishing acting and vocal outpouring has made her one of AP’s Breakthrough Entertainers of the Year alongside Stephanie Hsu,Sadie Sink,Tenoch Huerta, Iman Vellani and more.

The Tony win capped an intensely creative period for Kalukango, who earned a 2020 Tony nomination as lead actress in a play for her work in the harrowing “Slave Play,” a ground-breaking, bracing work that mixed race, sex, taboo desires and class.

On film, she played Betty X opposite Kingsley Ben-Adir in Regina King’s directorial debut, “One Night in Miami.” She also had a recurring role on the HBO series “Lovecraft Country” and appeared in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series “When They See Us.”

“I always felt like I wanted more than anything to be connected to work that kind of shifts the paradigm, that makes people think, that gets people to talk in their communities, that asks questions,” she says.

Raised in East Point, Georgia, Kalukango grew up singing Shania Twain and Whitney Houston. “I wanted to be a singer, but didn’t know that there was an actual path towards that,” she recalls.

At an eighth grade talent show, she sang Monica’s “For You I Will” with enough panache that a counselor suggested she audition for a performing arts high school. She got in and then saw their production of “Once on This Island.”

“I literally remembered just getting full body feels still sitting in the audience, seeing people that looked like me telling this amazing story,” she says.

After graduating from The Juilliard School, Kalukango made her Broadway debut as an understudy in “Godspell” and went on to join the ensemble in “Holler if Ya Hear Me,” a musical inspired by Tupac Shakur’s music and as Nettie in the 2015 Broadway revival of “The Color Purple” starring Jennifer Hudson.

Kalukango’s breakthrough happened when she landed a part in “Paradise Square” about Irish immigrants and Black Americans jostling to survive in New York City in 1863. Her role was widened and deepened until she was the star. Amazingly, she didn’t need to audition.

“It had to pinch myself,” she says. “I was like, ‘OK, kid, here we go. This is something you said you wanted to do and you’re about to face a fear, Let’s see you do it.'”

The past few years have been a coronation in many ways for this Broadway star. She recalls Sarah Paulson giving her a bear hug backstage after seeing her in “Slave Play.” She remembers popping champagne after her Tony win with her “Color Purple” co-stars Cynthia Erivo and Danielle Brooks.

A sign of her new status happened earlier this fall when she was invited to perform at the re-opening of Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center alongside such luminaries as Renée Fleming, Bernadette Peters, Alicia Keys, Sara Bareilles and Vanessa Williams. Leonard Bernstein’s daughter introduced Kalukango, who sang his song “Take Care of This House.”

Next is a return to Broadway this holiday season as The Witch in an acclaimed revival of “Into the Woods” with an all-star roster of talent including Patina Miller, Montego Glover, Stephanie J. Block, Brian d’Arcy James and Joshua Henry. Next year she also starts shooting a film about the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

She also wants to explore comedy after several serious roles. She is inspired by her 5-year-old son to mix it up. “Showing him just a world of imagination and all of that is kind of where I really want to start looking into, too. I want to have fun.”


Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits


For more on AP’s 2022 class of Breakthrough Entertainers, please visit: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-breakthrough-entertainers

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Signage outside PayPal headquarters in San Jose, Calif., is pictured on March 10, 2015. PayP...
Associated Press

PayPal to cut 2,000 jobs in latest tech company cost-cutting

PayPal said Tuesday it will trim about 7% of its total workforce, or about 2,000 full-time workers
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Man pleads guilty in death of long-missing Michigan woman

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — A man who previously admitted killing two women in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing a Michigan woman who disappeared more than 17 years ago. Harold David Haulman III pleaded guilty in Calhoun County District Court to second-degree murder in the death of 21-year-old Ashley Marie Parlier, Prosecutor David Gilbert […]
15 hours ago
Law enforcement officers aim their weapons at a home during a standoff in Grants Pass, Ore., on Tue...
Associated Press

Police: Oregon kidnap suspect killed 2 men before cornered

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The suspect in a violent kidnapping in Oregon — a man who spent little time behind bars for a similar crime in Nevada — killed two men before being cornered by officers and fatally shooting himself, police said Wednesday. Benjamin Obadiah Foster, 36, died at a hospital Tuesday night, hours after […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Ex-aide says Elon Musk had ‘handshake deal’ for Tesla buyout

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Elon Musk’s former chief of staff on Wednesday testified that the billionaire believed he had a “handshake deal” to take Tesla private in 2018 shortly before he tweeted he had the financing for an aborted buyout that is still haunting him in a high-profile trial. Sam Teller, who worked closely Musk […]
15 hours ago
Defense attorney Phillip Barber cross-examines Lt. Britt Dove in the double murder trial of Alex Mu...
Associated Press

Both sides use trove of cell data at Alex Murdaugh trial

A state agent testifying Wednesday in Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial meticulously reconstructed activity from his iPhone and the cellphones of his son and wife the night they were killed to try to link the disgraced South Carolina attorney to the shooting deaths. The key evidence for prosecutors is a video from the son’s phone […]
2 days ago
FILE - This July 12, 2021 image shows a large bowl of roasted green chile at a market in Hatch, N.M...
Associated Press

New Mexico considers roasted chile as official state aroma

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The sweet smell of green chile roasting on an open flame permeates New Mexico every fall, wafting from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots and inducing mouth-watering visions of culinary wonders. Now one state lawmaker says it’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the chile. Sen. Bill Soules’ […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
AP Breakthrough Entertainer: Joaquina Kalukango, in paradise