This week Playbill catches up with NaTasha Yvette Williams, who recently stepped into the role of Zelma in the Tony-nominated Tina—The Tina Turner Musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Earlier this season, Williams was part of the cast of the Broadway premiere of Douglas Lyons' Chicken & Biscuits, and her other Main Stem credits include Waitress, Chicago, A Night With Janis Joplin, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, and The Color Purple. Among her screen credits are roles in Harlem, FBI, New Amsterdam, and The Good Fight, and she will next be seen in Netflix’s Partner Track and the historical thriller ALICE.
Checking In With… Hadestown Star Kay Trinidad
What is your typical day like now?
Currently my days are blissfully bonkers. I wake my 10-year-old twins up for school at 6 AM. I try to spend a little time with them before they go to school. I head to rehearsal for my next project…I also occasionally have a "TV shoot day," in which case I miss morning time with the kids altogether. Following the rehearsal or shoot, I head to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre where Zelma, Tina's mom, comes to life, and I get bask in the majesty of Tina—The Tina Turner Musical for a few hours. In between I eat something, take calls, send texts, and FaceTime with Hubby and the kids. It's not glamorous, but it's glorious to do what I love.
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room?
Being back in the rehearsal room feels like the answer to hope. Especially after the last two years. My first time back was with Chicken & Biscuits. Ultimately, we closed because of COVID, so coming back into rehearsal with Tina was particularly gratifying because it was an answer to hope that brings joy and speaks to the winning human spirit. I am a prisoner of hope, and going into a rehearsal is walking out hope for the artist. Each of us working to create something that will enlighten, entertain, or educate others. It makes me feel like as crazy as things are, it's all gonna be alright.
Are there any parts of your role or the musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past 20 months?
The whole show is about a woman who is an incredible ball of fire; most of the people in her early life, because of various flaws and deficits, did not how to love and handle her. America is like that. Some people see the fire and potential in others, and because of their own inadequacy, they can't handle the treasure others possess. Tina displays how to overcome in the face of adversity. The whole show is powerful and poignant.
What are the challenges and/or benefits of taking over a role in a production that is already running?
Joining an already established show grants you the benefit of watching the person who you are taking over for. You get to expand on the foundation while fitting into the machine. The challenges come in letting others know you respect what came before you even if you are a little different. You move quicker because everyone is already in place. Sometimes you lack time to develop your character as you normally would, but it also adds to your artistry to create quickly.
Were you a Tina Turner fan prior to joining the company? Do you have a favorite Tina Turner song?
Of course, I was a Tina Turner fan. Is there anyone who isn't? "Proud Mary" makes me feel so good. But "Simply the Best" is my anthem!
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live theatre?
Audiences should feel safe because Broadway shows are taking every precaution. You must be vaccinated and wear your mask and, while nothing is foolproof, every safety precaution is taken to ensure health and wellness.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
I want those in power to know that there is room for all of us. My story and my experience is valid. We all are enriched by our differences, and we learn more through exposure, so challenge each to be a drum major for real change by letting people be the important bottom line.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest?
I would remind us all that seeds only bloom flowers after they are buried in the dirt. Dark spaces create life. Allow this period we are going through to produce something beautiful. If you are alone, rest, write, sing, be an instrument so that when the darkness is over, your community can benefit from your gifts.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know?
I learned that I have more in me. I have abilities that I have never touched. I have a voice and can use it for the betterment of others. I am an activist, and therefore I must, even in isolation, even in challenged time, I must stand up for what is right and speak for those who can't fight for themselves.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
Find a group, a cause that speaks to you—that makes your eye twinkle or you heart leap. Find something to believe in and support it with everything you have. Black Theatre United is that cause for me, and there are several others doing great work. Jump in where you fit in, and "Keep Rolling on the River of Life!"