Vanessa Williams: I'M Using All My Skills In "After Midnight"

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Vanessa Williams took time out of her busy schedule to talk to this writer about her role in “After Midnight” which she presently appears in until May 11th with Dule Hill as her leading man.  After Midnight is at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, located at 256 West 47th Street (Between 8th Avenue and Broadway) in Manhattan.  She replaces Toni Baxton who was featured until recently with Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.

With “After Midnight,” I feel I have been lucky to have yet another challenge -- when one door closes another opens” remarked the talented performer.  “I have been able to jump from genre to genre which I suppose comes down to my having a musical theatre background.  I majored in theater in college so I have had acting, music and dance training as well as theater.  It’s a great discipline because I get a chance to flex and use different muscles depending on where the job is and I get a chance to work with a phenomenal cast of talented performers,” stated Vanessa.

As part of the cast of “After Midnight,” Ms. Williams does 8 shows a week.  Normally a performer is able to rehearse at least 3 weeks before working in the show, but in her case, Vanessa only had one week of rehearsal and then went straight into the show. “Yes, it was a short rehearsal period; however, I get a chance to sing some amazing standards in the show, songs like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Stormy Weather” and Sunny Side of the Street, et al.”  I’m able to both sing and dance in the show and the music is pure joy.  The energy is electric and the talent is extraordinary so it’s been fun every night,” said Williams.  “This is all music from the 1930s and 40s.  Duke Ellington did all the arrangements. In fact, Wynton Marsalis first did the show at City Center about two years ago.  So the musical has traveled its road having started off as a concept then becoming a Broadway show, “explained the singer/actress/Broadway star.

“After Midnight” is a 90 minute show without intermission.  Generally the orchestra is in a pit but in this production the Jazz at Lincoln Center All Stars band is a featured part of the show and is allowed to demonstrate their own outstanding musical talents during the show.

“From the very beginning of the downbeat, you are on a ride.  The audience can’t stop tapping their feet. But it’s the Harlem Renaissance era right up on stage.  It’s our history, our songbook.  These are melodies you can’t get out of your head and is an important part of our legacy” continued Vanessa.

The After Midnight producers also feature a slot called the Special Guest Star.  Although all the special guests do the same four numbers naturally they do it in their individual keys.  “In my case,” said Vanessa, “I dance.  So, I get a chance to do new choreography that has never been done by anyone else.  I am sure whoever comes after me will bring their own particular talents and specialties to the role as well.  It’s a joy whenever I am doing Broadway because it is something I love.  Dule Hill is back in the show after some time away but he is back headlining with me, I know people may have seen his television show and may be unaware that Dule started off as a dancer.   He has a background in tapping.  Maybe some of you remember him in the “Tap Dance Kid,” explained Ms. Williams.

I chatted with the entertainer about her roles in Ugly Betty and then later in Desperate Housewives. Vanessa discussed how actors must get used to immersing themselves into different roles.  “I was Wilhelmina Slater in Ugly Betty and then was dropped into Wisteria Lane for my role in Desperate Housewives.  Actors find themselves a different character in a different field and ambiance. Of course there are different writers and whole lot of different people to work with.  After 4 years of Ugly Betty I bonded with the ensemble cast, so naturally I miss the people in that show.  You become a family.  As an actor you take what you are given and emerge yourself into the moment. I stay in touch with my Ugly Betty cast members and even after I leave “After Midnight,” I will stay in touch with some of the wonderful people I have met in the show.”  

When Vanessa ends her engagement in “After Midnight”on May 11th she is planning a 2-week tour in Japan.  Then back to the US where she will resume her role in “Trip to Bountiful” with Cicely Tyson and Blair Underwood in Los Angeles who takes over the role that Cuba Gooding filled in NY.  Bountiful will run in LA until November 2nd.

Listen to my show with Vanessa Williams on “Topically Yours” via http://www.blogtalkradio.com/blakeradio/2014/04/10/topically-yours--vanessa-l-williams on the BlakeRadio Network, Rainbow Soul.

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