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Issue Date: November 1, 2009
Also this week:
2009 Holiday movie preview

2009 Holiday Movie Preview

There's a new princess in town

Anika Noni Rose lends her Tony-winning voice to a groundbreaking Disney film.

By Lola Ogunnaike

Rose, who grew up watching Disney films, is the voice of Tiana in "The Princess and the Frog."

To say that actress Anika Noni Rose is excited about playing Disney's first black princess would be quite the understatement. For her, it's simply the role of a lifetime. "It's just so magnificent," Rose says, tears welling in her warm brown eyes. "It's wonderful to be a part of this moment, the recognition of beauty outside of what has been the standard blond hair and blue eyes."

Although she already has won a Tony for the Broadway hit "Caroline, or Change," an Obie for her work in the musical Eli's Comin' and acclaim for turns in films like "Dreamgirls," Rose isn't yet a household name. That could all change Nov. 25, when Disney's newest animated extravaganza, "The Princess and the Frog," hits theaters. Set in 1920s New Orleans, the film follows the adventures of Tiana, a strong-willed waitress who kisses a frog that used to be a prince. Things go awry, and before you can say "ribbit," Tiana is an amphibian, too.

"It's wonderful to be a part of this moment, the recognition of beauty outside of the standard blond hair and blue eyes."

The film's producer, Peter Del Vecho, says he immediately knew Rose was perfect for the part: "She is a great actress and has a tremendous singing voice with real musicality."

Naturally, the film is already generating buzz and a bit of controversy. Critics wonder why the first black princess has to end up a frog. Why is it set in the home of Katrina, one of the most harrowing chapters in recent black history? Why isn't the prince African American (he hails from the fictional country Maldonia)? "We hadn't even taped one word and people were fussing," Rose says over a halibut lunch in Manhattan. "People need to see the movie before they judge."

She's no-nonsense now, but with a flash of her high-wattage smile, Rose easily morphs from serious to sweet to sexy. She spent the previous day at our photo shoot, vamping in stilettos and dresses short enough to reveal the birthmark on her upper left thigh. Today she's makeup-free and sporting jeans and sneakers. Think Cinderella after the ball.

As her meal goes cold, Rose, 37, gushes about loving Disney features like "Bambi" and "Fantasia" as a child in Bloomfield, Conn. Her parents exposed her to the arts early, taking her to plays and Alvin Ailey productions and enrolling her in ballet classes, which Rose eventually came to hate. "They were always poking me and telling me to put my butt in, and I was always like, 'This is as far as this butt goes in,' " the curvaceous actress says.

In high school, Rose decided she wanted a life onstage and later trained at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She has worked consistently ever since, and Rose says there's still much for her to do. She'd like to record albums and even star in an action movie. But for now, she's taking it easy and enjoying time at home. "It's nice to sleep in your own bed," she says. "I just wish room service was there."

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