Interview: AIN'T TOO PROUD's Chani Maisonet Talks Swing Life, Motown, and More

The former Atlanta actress and Kennesaw State University alum returns home to play the Fox Theatre.

By: Mar. 10, 2022
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Interview: AIN'T TOO PROUD's Chani Maisonet Talks Swing Life, Motown, and More
AIN'T TOO PROUD is playing
at the Fox Theatre, now through March 13

When Chani Maisonet took the stage as Diana Ross in AIN'T TOO PROUD - THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS last month, she savored every moment because she didn't know when she might play the iconic Supreme again. That's not to say she didn't know if she would be in the show again, but on any given day, she could be playing any of the seven female roles in the Motown musical or not appear at all. But that's par for the course for a swing like Maisonet.

"What's a swing? Oh my goodness, where do I start? If you've ever heard of an understudy or a cover, that's what a swing is, basically," Maisonet answers. "If a cast member, for some reason, can't do the show or somebody gets hurt in the middle of the show, a swing swings into the show and covers that part. And they have to be ready at all times."

While an understudy or a cover typically has to know one or two roles, a swing learns many roles, or tracks. And in Maisonet's case, she knows each female performer's track, ready to jump in at a moment's notice and put on a stellar performance.

"You say 'swing,' and my armpits are already sweating!" she jokes. "But you don't have time to worry about it. You don't have time to be stressed about it. That's the thing: You just gotta do it when you're called. It's very overwhelming, but also rewarding when you finally get to do it."

Much of a swing's preparation tends to involve watching others rehearse, but Maisonet says she has had the chance to have her own hands-on rehearsals.

"We have rehearsals, just like the leads of the show," she says, "which actually makes me feel really great because we also get to work with the choreographers and music directors, just like the rest of the cast. It still has to be the same show, and the characters have to be right. But that's what a swing does."

Interview: AIN'T TOO PROUD's Chani Maisonet Talks Swing Life, Motown, and More
Chani Maisonet, center, is the only female swing in AIN'T TOO PROUD
(photo courtesy of AIN'T TOO PROUD's Facebook page)

While audiences around the country are likely seeing Maisonet for the first time in her National Tour debut, Atlanta audiences knew her for the last few years as a regular on our stages, appearing in productions everywhere from Theatrical Outfit to Aurora Theatre. In fact, her first experience swinging was right here on an Atlanta stage with Alliance Theatre's world premiere of Becoming Nancy. Although, it was a very unconventional swing experience.

"I had auditioned for [BECOMING NANCY]; they flew me to New York to audition for one of the roles," she recalls. "I didn't end up getting it, but then they were performing in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre, and somebody got hurt the last week that the show was running. And they called me and said, 'Can you learn this track in 12 hours?'"

Swinging into a show you have already learned is one thing, but performing a brand new role in a new show is quite another. But she was up for the challenge.

"[As a swing] my mind shifts into another gear. I think it's survival mode, but it just shifts," she explains. "And this is the superpower of being a swing because my mind literally switches to be like, 'Okay, this is what I gotta do!' And I just do it."

But... How did she do it?

"The dance captain of that show [Nico DeJesus] really helped to prepare me really well. And so I really did feel confident in doing it. And all of the education that I had I was grateful for in that time, because I had to learn things so quickly," the Kennesaw State University alum says.

So when the opportunity to be the swing for AIN'T TOO PROUD came along, Maisonet knew she was ready.

"I was like, if I can do that, I can do [AIN'T TOO PROUD]!"

Interview: AIN'T TOO PROUD's Chani Maisonet Talks Swing Life, Motown, and More
Maisonet as Diana Ross (photo courtesy of her Instagram)

Being in this musical is quite the full-circle moment for Maisonet, who grew up listening to Motown with her parents.

"This music is before my time, absolutely, but my parents have always loved Motown, and I guess my first introduction into Motown was the Jackson Five," she shares. "But I grew up listening to Diana Ross and The Supremes, which I had the pleasure of going on as for the first time [in February], and it was amazing."

Her love for Motown and performing alike meant she gave her AIN'T TOO PROUD auditions everything she had- and she had a blast doing it.

"The only thing that I thought was, 'This is me, this is my music, this is everything that I grew up with. It's in my core,'" she describes. "So anything that they gave me, I was excited to do, any choreography they gave, like a little hit, or singing, especially the singing part. I was so excited. I was like, 'Whatever you got, give it to me!'"

She was no stranger to singing the Motown style for a crowd, having performed in DREAMGIRLS at Atlanta Lyric Theatre in 2016.

"This is my music. I love it!" the performer gushes. "So the [AIN'T TOO PROUD] audition process for me was so much fun, and it wasn't necessarily about booking the show. My mom always told me to let your light shine. And through this music, I feel like it's the most I can shine."

Earlier in the tour, she paused for a moment of awe when she was performing at the iconic Kennedy Center and learned that some of the Motown greats themselves like Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder had performed there right before her cast arrived.

"It's everything that I've dreamed of, really," she shares. "It's really been overwhelming in a positive light because I just keep going back to me, singing as a little girl and all of the work that I've done, all the sacrifices that I've made. Getting to a place like the Kennedy Center is just a culmination of all the hard work that I think artists really look forward to. And I can't wait to keep going and see what other venues we can play, like the Fox!"

Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta presents the First National Tour of AIN'T TOO PROUD - THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS, the new Broadway smash hit musical at the Fox Theatre March 8-13, 2022 as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Atlanta 40th anniversary season. Tickets start at a special 40th Anniversary price of $40 and can be purchased on the Fox Theatre website here.