As previously reported, Williams joins original Broadway star Stephanie Mills, Queen Latifah, David Alan Grier and Mary J. Blige. Her casting was announced on "The Today Show" Aug. 5. She hails from New Jersey, where she was a Paper Mill Playhouse "Rising Star" nominee. (Watch her sing with their Broadway Show Choir here!)
Shortly after the news was announced, Playbill.com hopped on the phone with the newbie, who could not contain her excitement.
Congrats, Shanice! Are you over the moon right now?
Shanice Williams: I'm somewhere over the rainbow right now!
I'm from New Jersey, too! Tell me about what made you audition.
SW: Well, I was coming home from school for the summer, and I knew that I had to do something because my mom wasn't going to let me stay at home, so I was like "I'm going to audition…" I found it online, and [I was] actually just wanting the learning experience — that's all I went there for — and then things just started happening so fast.
How did your audition go? What did you sing?
SW: I went to the open call. I think I was number 550-something, and then I sang "Be A Lion" and "Home" for them, and they invited me to come back. And, how were callbacks?
SW: They went really good… Then, I auditioned in front of the head of NBC, and they told me that day that I had got the part.
So, what was that feeling like for you? I saw that short video clip in which Kenny Leon told you that you were going to be Dorothy! What was going through your mind? That must have been such a surreal moment.
SW: Honestly, I did not know what to think. I didn't know what to say. I was just like, "Thank you, God" because I feel like I've been waiting for this moment forever. This is all that I really want to do, so I was just like, "Thank you, thank you so much."
Did you always want to be a performer? When did you get bit by the theatre bug?
SW: I started singing in my church choir, and then when I got to middle school, I had the coolest musical theatre director, and we actually did The Wiz in seventh grade, and I was Addaperle, and my grandma was like, "Why didn't you audition for Dorothy?" But I was too nervous for that. And then, as I got into high school, I had amazing musical directors, Alison Dooley and Robert Van Wyk, at Rahway High School. They were amazing teachers; they gave me the best training. They introduced me to my vocal coach, and that's when I realized this is a career thing for me. I don't want to do anything else. In high school I realized it was my true goal, and from there I just did every show. I've never seen a show at my high school because I was always in them. Then I started at Paper Mill, and they just gave me so much training.
What did your grandmother say when you told her that you were Dorothy in The Wiz Live! on NBC?
SW: They got it on camera. I called her and my grandfather, and she was like, "Oh my God!" She just kept saying it over and over again. I felt like this is for her, you know?
Did she give you an "I told you so"?
SW: No, she was like, "I'm so happy for you. Thank God." Always praying for me.
What did your parents say when you told them?
SW: My dad is so funny, he was like "Yes…!" And, my mom [had the same reaction]. She was just like, "Thank you, Jesus." They were just so supportive of me and just saying, "We believe in you. We've always believed that you could do this."
So, are you nervous? Are you excited? What are you feeling right now about being on TV?
SW: I feel like I'm not really nervous right now because I honestly feel like I'm just doing what I was always meant to do. I'm just excited to start.
Tell me about getting to work with these big names — Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Stephanie Mills…
SW: Well, three months ago, I was paying thousands of dollars to have training in acting, and I just feel like they're going to give me one-on-one learning experience. I'm going to learn so much from them, and that's what I'm so excited to do.
How much have you been practicing "Home"?
SW: Right now I'm taking vocal lessons with Liz Caplan, and we've been going over [it], and she's helping me do it better.
Tell me more about yourself! What other stuff do you like to do besides performing? What are some of your hobbies?
SW: I love animals. I have four dogs… I just love performing and animals! [Laughs.]
You graduated from Rahway High School?
Were you planning on going to college?
SW: I actually went to school for a year in Los Angeles, but…I feel like it was not for me at all, which is why I came home for the summer, which was a great choice, obviously. It was the right decision.
After The Wiz, are you planning on going to school somewhere else?
SW: If I'm not working after The Wiz, I am definitely planning on going back to college in New Jersey.
What are some of your other dream roles? Do you hope to one day be on Broadway?
SW: It's crazy because that's what I always thought. I never thought I'd be doing TV. I've always loved it, but I felt like I was just going to do Broadway because that was what I wanted to do the most. So definitely Broadway is something that I want to do the most. I look up to Audra McDonald. She's my number one inspiration. My dream would be just to work with her some day.
Tell me about your first encounter with The Wiz. Have you seen the movie?
SW: I saw the movie. I loved it. My dad has the soundtrack so we'd listen to it in the car… and I watched the movie a lot. I went to Lincoln Center to see the original [Broadway production] with Stephanie Mills, and I was in love with it.
Last but not least, what was it like being on "The Today Show"?
SW: Just seeing all of the people that I usually watch in the morning, it was so cool and they made me feel so comfortable.
Well, congratulations! We're so excited for you here at Playbill!
SW: Thank you, guys! This is crazy! I go on Playbill.com all the time just to see what's going on.
(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.)