Michelle Williams is best known for her accomplished musical career — which already includes three solo albums, in addition to her work as one-third of Destiny’s Child — but the Illinois native has also became a staple on the theater circuit over the past few years. Her latest gig finds her playing a lead role in the national tour of the Tony Award-winning play “Fela!,” which begins in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
“It feels amazing to be involved with ‘Fela!’ because I said that between each album, I wanted to do a theater run,” Williams told MTV News. “I’m on my fourth album, and this is my fifth show, actually, so I’m on time. I just need to catch up on an album so it’s five and five, but it’s an amazing experience for me to do both.”
Williams said a close friend introduced her to Fela Kuti’s music five years ago, and she eventually found herself researching him on YouTube, watching his DVDs and even catching the original “Fela!” show in London and on Broadway. Now she’s cast as one of the lead characters.
“I play the role of Sandra Isadore, Fela’s love and basically his teacher,” she explained. “What I like about Sandra is that she saw something in Fela. Fela was definitely passionate about his music and passionate about what he was feeling — he knew things were going wrong in Nigeria, he knew there was corruption going on — but [he was] emotional about things [that he hadn’t] studied, researched and gotten all the facts [about], and that’s what Sandra helped him to do. I like how she loved him, saw the potential in him and she helped him to learn more about himself and his country.”
In addition to having to perform across several cities for the national tour — including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles — the rehearsals for “Fela!” were also much different than Williams was used to. “On this show, everybody had to learn at the same time,” she revealed. “Normally, when I come into a show I usually have three to four weeks with the choreographer on my own, then with the music director and the director, but this time music, dance and dialogue [were] being done at the same time. It was a lot of fun and a great process.”
So great of a process, in fact, that Michelle jokes about not having a meltdown on set — for once. “I had them cracking up because I said that usually for every show I’ll have [at least] one nervous breakdown,” she said, laughing. “I just say that because your brain is processing so much information, then you have the pressure of wanting to be amazing on opening night and then your brain just says, ‘I can’t take anymore!’ But I haven’t had that happen, so maybe this process, the way we’re doing it, I need to do that for other shows.”
Visit FelaOnBroadway.com for tour dates and tickets.