Natasha Yvette Williams: If you don’t know her name, get to know it. This lady is an amazing talent. Any time that I hear she is going to be in a production, I rush to it. It’s not just her stage presence that grabs you, it’s her incredible singing voice as well. Williams completely submerges herself into her character and finds the humanity, no matter who the character is. She has been featured on Broadway in “Chicken & Biscuits,” “Waitress,” “Chicago,” “A Night With Janis Joplin,” “The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” and “The Color Purple.” She has always been able to step onto a stage and command it. Well, now she has stepped on the stage at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on W. 46th Street and has taken over the role of Zelma, Tina Turner’s mother in “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.”
Williams recently spoke to the AmNews about this role—which she nails, by the way! Addressing her feelings about taking over the role, which was originated by Dawnn Lewis, she shared, “I’m ecstatic this fell in my lap, something I didn’t expect. It was challenging because I was replacing Dawnn Lewis, someone I’ve admired. But the company was welcoming, it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Williams demonstrates her acting chops as she brings charm, drama, poignancy, feistiness, and humor to the role. “The assistant director, director and Katori Hall were sending me notes on how they wanted to make sure she wasn’t just hated, she was complicated. My challenge was to portray her loving her daughter, even while pushing her away. So, trying to find those moments where that could be expressed was exciting,” Williams admitted.
Anyone who knows the character of Zelma knows that she can be disliked on a certain level, for the things that she did and said to Tina, but Williams also has her come across as endearing, and her portrayal allows one to feel empathy. When asked what she is trying to bring to the character, Williams explained, “I think there are so many negative images of Black people in the media and in things we get to portray. But I hope this is beginning to change. Zelma loved Tina, but didn’t love herself enough. I would love to bring out the humanness of Zelma that comes with flaws and hopefully forgiveness.”
Williams has a powerful vocal instrument. “I went to school for acting, but I haven’t taken formal singing training. I sang as a child in a church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Then my choral program in JHS and HS—I went to Armstrong JHS and Cape Fear High School and my chorus teachers were amazing. I learned how to take care of my voice, read music and make vowel sounds. We had a teacher from high school, Sharon McNair, and she coached theater. I credit my voice to the extraordinary people I had who were free with sharing information. For college I went to North Carolina A&T State University, grad school Michigan State. I have a BFA in Communication and Theatre Arts and Math Education. I have an MFA with a concentration in acting. I went back to Fayetteville, North Carolina, taught school for a year and then moved to New York,” she shared.
Recalling her journey Williams said, “I was 24, 25 when I came to New York. I came to sing at the Apollo. I just wanted to be a singer, though I felt stronger as an actress and I started auditioning for plays and musicals. The ultimate goal was to be on Broadway, so [being in ‘TINA’] I’m feeling good. It’s about what’s next, I’m entering into TV and film and now I’m writing. I find so much joy in everything I’m doing when I’m performing. I’m amazed that God allows me to do what I want to do.”
Why should people come to see “TINA”? Williams explained, “Because you think you know the story and you don’t know all of it. You should come because the music is just a good time. It’s a reminder to all of us to keep pushing. It will uplift you and inspire you. It’s a story of hope, and I think we all need a little bit of that after these last two years.”
Looking at being a part of this production, the lessons learned and towards the future, Williams shared, “I am going to be in ‘Some Like It Hot’ in the fall. When I got the call to audition for ‘TINA,’ I said okay and I booked it. So, ‘TINA’ was a gift, an extra. The people here have been so welcoming and warm to me. Every night I am experiencing the difficulties of being a mother. I wonder if I’m doing right by my kids. It has become the best place I could be. I have 11-year-old twins and I’m just trying to manage that emotion. It propelled me into doing ‘Some Like It Hot’ with a more mature outlook. I’m very excited about Broadway making space for people of color in roles that are not usually given to Black people.
I’m very excited about all the color I’ve seen on Broadway these days. Black people have been waiting in the wings for the roles that were available. In ‘Some Like It Hot,’ the lead woman and man are Black and I’m Black. The cast composition is literally half and half and this is a difficult time period in the 1930s.”
A member of Black Theatre United, an organization that fights for equity for Blacks on Broadway, Williams can be followed on Instagram on @Natashayvettewilliams.