Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A new Cinderella: Keke Palmer

by Melissa Scott, Writing Intern


Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for BET
“Might see my face on the movie screen, hypnotize you, frame by frame, scene by scene. Staying fly while I keep it fresh, only thirteen and I ain't even close yet” sang a confident Keke Palmer back in 2007, in “Bottoms Up” from her first album, So Uncool. She couldn't have been closer to the truth. The vivacious 21 year old now adds “Broadway original” to her list of achievements.

Announced Monday, August 4, Keke has been cast as the lead role in the upcoming Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway. Making the announcement so remarkable is not only Keke’s own stage debut, but one of Broadway’s as well. Keke made history by being cast as the first ever African-American Cinderella on Broadway.

This won’t be the first time a “multicultural” Cinderella has been portrayed. Singer Brandy played the main role, alongside a strong cast including Whitney Houston, Bernadette Peters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Victor Garber in the 1997 television movie. But Keke’s role will be a first for the “Great White Way.”

“I feel like the reason I’m able to do this is definitely because Brandy did it on TV,” Keke told The Associated Press. “In me doing this, it shows everybody that everything is possible.” Keke is also motivated by the opportunity to expand her horizon, and learn more through the new experience. “Theater offers so much more that I haven’t been able to access doing film and TV and everything like that,” she enthused. “I’m very excited to learn all that it has to offer — that focus and that dedication to perform at a certain level every night.”

Keke isn’t unfamiliar with paving an unprecedented path. The young singer and actress also made television history earlier this year by becoming the youngest ever talk show host. Keke familiarizes her talk show, the BET-run Just Keke, by focusing on connecting with her audiences. She addresses public concerns, social issues, and shared experiences in a nonjudgmental forum. On one episode of Just Keke, Palmer led the show by drilling her audience about the slang implications of the word “ghetto,” its place in today’s lexis, and whether its use is possibly harmful to society. In her talk show, Palmer displays hope that she can continue connecting with her generation and open more dialogues for young people to voice their opinions.

Keke’s success shows that if she—having grown up in Harvey, Illinois, a town with a 33 percent poverty rate in 2009—can star on Broadway and host her own talk show, other aspiring individuals can reach their potential too. Her level of maturity, responsibility, and dedication to the world around her is surprising for a girl barely out of her teenage years.

Her success is both prolific and wide-ranging, showing no boundaries in her professional pursuits. In addition to her talk show, since debuting on-screen opposite Queen Latifah—whom Keke now counts as a mentor—in Barbershop 2: Back to Business, she has starred in films Akeelah and the Bee, Madea’s Family Reunion, and Joyful Noise; starred on the Nickelodeon television series True Jackson, VP; released an album with Atlantic Records in 2007; and guest-starred on Masters of Sex.

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Not satisfied with changing Broadway antiquity, Keke remains ambitious. In addition to on-screen and on-stage, Keke hopes to have a future in writing. When questioned on a possible authorship in an interview with Hollywood’s Vanity Fair, she commented “I don't know how exactly I would do that but I have so many experiences I would like to share. I've been keeping journals since I was 13. I have about five of them now. And I'd love to somehow incorporate those journal entries in a book.”

The widely known and loved Cinderella character is commonly depicted as hardworking and ambitious. Keke seems to demonstrate those ideals impeccably. She clearly fosters the values of determination and perseverance, so it’s no wonder her casting as the optimistic and devoted Cinderella is accompanied by such excitement and approval. Keke exemplifies an enthusiastic young attitude—constantly pushing for more and expanding and adjusting her goals. It’s this healthy hunger for more that makes her so astoundingly unique. 

But Keke didn’t need a Prince Charming to help her realize her dreams. Instead, she set herself apart by taking action and carving out her own success. Grasping a role as the first ever African American female to land the role of Cinderella, on Broadway, might only be one check mark off of a long list for this young extraordinarily talented woman.
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