Back From Oz, Shanice Williams Remembers the Day Her Life Changed Before Your Eyes

News   Back From Oz, Shanice Williams Remembers the Day Her Life Changed Before Your Eyes Shanice Williams was plucked from small-town New Jersey to fly over the rainbow less than two weeks ago in NBC's production of The Wiz Live! After receiving rave reviews for her performance as Dorothy, we catch up with her on life in her first post-Wiz interview. 

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Before taking the stage as Dorothy, Shanice Williams (the newcomer from New Jersey, who was chosen from an open-call audition attended by hundreds) looked at her Auntie Em (played by The Wiz's orginal Dorothy) and thought to herself, "This is for Stephanie right now." With Stephanie Mills by her side and Toto in tow, Williams journeyed to Oz with over 11 million viewers watching her ease on down the Yellow Brick Road.

Now that the wishes have been granted for Dorothy and her pals (and NBC prepares to rebroadcast The Wiz Live! Dec. 19 at 8 PM ET), Williams talks of her breakout experience. She recounts the moments before viewers began to tune in, as well as how life has changed since returning "Home" and what her biggest fan, her grandmother, said to her immediately following.

Shanice Williams and Stephanie Mills
Shanice Williams and Stephanie Mills Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC

So, how are you feeling post-Wiz?!
Shanice Williams: It's bittersweet because I miss everyone. We really became family, but I know that there are bigger and better things coming. We did a great job, and we can always look back on that and be like, "Okay, wow. We did something amazing!"

What were you feeling right before going on that soundstage? What was the last thing you did right before the show began?
SW: Well, I drank water! And then I literally stood waiting to come on. I just looked at Stephanie [Mills], and what was going through my head was, "Alright. This is for Stephanie right now. We're about to kill it. I'm leaning on her shoulders; she's the original." She's right by me before I go on, so I just looked at her and was like, "Alright! We got this." From there, I don't even remember. It just went by so quick. Tell me about the day after! Since we're both from the same area in New Jersey, I saw everyone celebrating you all over Facebook. There were viewing parties at your high school and all around the area. 
SW: I woke up, and then I [thought], "Okay, now what?!" [Laughs.] But, I had like 100 text messages on my phone [from] everyone just saying how much they loved it. When I finally got home, my mom had balloons and everything in front of the house. It was weird for me because I was like, "Okay, I'm not at rehearsal. What do I do now?" It was weird, but it was just full of everyone saying, "You did a great job. We loved the show." And then I finally got to rest!

Elijah Kelley, Ne-Yo, Shanice Williams and David Alan Grier
Elijah Kelley, Ne-Yo, Shanice Williams and David Alan Grier Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC

What did Grandma say? [Read about how Williams' grandmother encouraged her to audition for the role of Dorothy in The Wiz in seventh grade.]
SW: Oh my gosh! She was crying! I knew she would be crying. She called me literally right after I got off the stage — or a little bit after that — and she was just like, "I'm so proud of you." It's like that loss-for-words type of [feeling], but my mom was the funniest. When she called me, she was just like, "Shanice. Shanice!" She just kept saying my name, and I was like, "Oh my goodness." I was happy that they were so proud of me.

I love the video of you walking off the stage at the end of the show and into your cast applauding you. Take me through that moment. It must have been such a relief. You just nailed "Home," and then you're walking into this room full of love.
SW: Well, when I finished "Home," in my head I was like, "Why am I not crying right now?" I didn't know what to expect when I came off that stage because I was so into the character. You know when you do something great and you're like, "Okay, I killed that!" I didn't have that feeling. There were no feelings…so when I came backstage and everyone was clapping for me, it just hit me. I [thought], "We really just did that," and I just started crying.

Were there any parts throughout the night that you were nervous about?
SW: Well, before we started, our director Kenny [Leon] said this crazy, amazing prayer, and that just put me in the mindset [of], "Okay…!" He always says, "If you're going to pray, don't worry; if you're going to worry, don't pray." And, I knew after that prayer that we were going to have a great show. I just knew it. There were no doubts that it wasn't going to be great. I basically put my Dorothy shoes on, and I was Dorothy for the whole time — really living through the story and enjoying every moment, like it was actually the first time that I had done it. When you get into something — when you do it every day — it becomes really repetitive, but on the night of the show, it was like I was doing everything for the first time with a whole different type of energy. It wasn't like in my mind: "Okay, this is coming next, this is coming next…" I felt like we were just going on that journey.

Shanice Williams and Uzo Aduba
Shanice Williams and Uzo Aduba Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Since The Wiz, you were on the opening-night red carpets for The Color Purple and School of Rock. What's it like to join the Broadway community now and be interviewed on red carpets? I'm sure it's life-changing…
SW: I was telling my manager… Broadway has always been my goal; that's what I've been working for. So, just to go to those events, and then everyone knows me and is telling me how they enjoyed The Wiz, it was really emotional… I haven't even been on Broadway, and I'm starting to have a Broadway family. It just feels incredible. So many people that I've watched in these shows [are] talking to me like we're just one big family, and it just feels amazing. I know if one day I ever go on Broadway, I already have friends and family I could call on and ask for advice. It just feels incredible. [Laughs.] I remember standing outside at general rush and student rush, just waiting and hoping to get tickets, and now I'm getting invited to shows on opening night!

Shanice Williams on opening night of <i>The Color Purple</i>
Shanice Williams on opening night of The Color Purple Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

What did you think of Color Purple? Was your life changed? Because mine was!
SW: Oh my God! Color Purple… There are certain shows that make you fall completely back in love with Broadway, and that's what it did for me. I was sitting right next to [the reporter for] Broadway Black, and we were just crying together. We were just crying. Cynthia [Erivo] is my inspiration, and she actually reached out to me before I even saw the show and just told me, "If you ever need any advice… you could hit me up," and after I saw [the show] I was like, "She's incredible and just raw talent." The entire cast was amazing. It was just one of those shows that you never forget.

What is one thing someone has told you post-Wiz that you've really held with you?
SW: Oh my gosh! Audra McDonald! Everyone knows that Audra McDonald is my inspiration, and she put on Twitter — because there's a line in "Home" that [says], "I know where I'm going"… She [tweeted], "I know where you're going — as far and as high as you want." That was incredible to me. That's all I needed. I put on Twitter, "This means everything to me that Audra McDonald said that." She's my inspiration. Everyone knows that, so just for her to say that was one of the most incredible things I heard after the show.

Are you ready for Broadway?
SW: I'm ready! Broadway's always been my dream in life. I can't wait. I would love to be on Broadway tomorrow.

(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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