For seven weeks this summer, TV personality Wendy Williams will step into the spotlight and play Matron Mama Morton in Broadway's Chicago. But before she kicks it into high gear, the former radio host and powerful media player according to The Hollywood Reporter, will host the 2013 Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards this Sunday.
ESSENCE.com caught up with Williams to chat about all things Broadway—from her upcoming debut and rehearsing to hosting this week's fan-driven annual audience awards ceremony in New York City.
ESSENCE.com: You’re hosting Broadway.com’s Audience Choice Awards this Sunday and it’s all based on fan votes. So, which shows are your favorite shows on Broadway right now?
WENDY WILLIAMS: I haven’t been in some time. I’ve been very busy with the show, to be honest. I would love to see Kinky Boots which I plan on going to see at some point this month with my parents. I also want to see Motown. I heard that was really good. But again I haven’t had a chance to really do much of anything because the grind of doing a daily show also maintaining my home life and preparing to do the talk show while being in Chicago has been all consuming.
ESSENCE.com: Is there any element about Sunday’s ceremony that you’re most looking forward to?
WILLIAMS: I love award shows where there are tables. I’ve never been to one, but I watch on TV—the Golden Globes—it just looks like everyone’s having a good time eating, drinking, having casual conversations at tables with friends, while going up to accept awards. I love that. So, I’m really excited to razzle dazzle the crowd with entertaining and hosting duties and sitting at the table with my glam squad, who I also adore.
ESSENCE.com: This is your warm welcome to the Broadway community because you’re going on to play Matron Mama Morton in Chicago in a couple weeks.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I was asked to take the role of Matron Mama Morton and of course when you get asked to do something by Broadway you do not say ‘no’ because this is a dream that many people don’t even get the chance to realize. So I’m very excited to play that role for seven weeks, eight shows a week, six days a week. I can do it!
ESSENCE.com: How are you preparing?
WILLIAMS: I start vocal lessons in two weeks and then we start rehearsals in three weeks. To prepare for the vocal lessons it’s not really about teaching me how to sing on key and things like that, I am the one who wanted to take vocal lessons. It’s something I wanted to do because I need to know how to change my voice. Even though my voice has been my money-maker my whole career from radio and now to TV, talking in regular tones for an hour on a talk show is easy. And talking in regular tones for four hours on the radio was easy. But I don’t want to test it by screaming on Broadway, where you have to talk a little bit louder. Then of course the singing number—I want to give it my all and that will mean perhaps blowing a vocal cord so I want to know how to pace myself to make sure that my voice is optimum.
ESSENCE.com: You’re taking on a role that Queen Latifah played very well. Have you reached out to her to get advice?
WILLIAMS: No, because it’s not playing her. One of the things I was told by the casting director is ‘Wendy, do not study how other people have played this role, this is a role that was originated by a heavier set White woman. So this role has no color and it’s not about being a vocal genius. This role is about being fast and it was designed so that it could have interchangeable guest stars.’ I said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s brilliant.’ So I’ve taken their advice, I’ve seen the movie Chicago once and I haven’t Googled facts or anything to see how anyone else has done it. But I do know that for instance when Queen Latifah played it in the movie, I was told she had on the 1920s and ‘30s tail matron dress. It was dark and matronly. When Sofia Vergara played it I know Sofia wore a tuxedo type outfit. Something more form fitting because she played it more sexy so they said the role changes every time depending on who the actress is.
ESSENCE.com: You’re going to be doing eight Chicago shows a week. And your talk show has been picked up for a summer season too. How are you going to balance everything?
WILLIAMS: The talk show goes until the last working day in July and Chicago ends on August 11, so they’ll be two weeks while I’m on Broadway where I won’t be doing the talk show. But the other five weeks I’ll be doing both. I will make it work. I’ve got cooperation with all the people around me, thank God—from my parents to my son, my husband and my staff. Every last intern, my producers, everybody understands that this is a great opportunity; I’m going to be doing it. But I’m also going to be counting on everybody to step up to the plate and do their part and I promise that I will step up to the plate and continue to do my part. I don’t want the production of my talk show or the production of Chicago to suffer because I’m choosing to have two jobs.