Williams, who most recently starred as Mammy in the Trevor Nunn-helmed Gone With the Wind in London, stars in the title role in the musical based on the life of the late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Mahalia officially opens Feb. 4 and runs through Feb. 22 in the Bolton Theatre.
Kent Gash directs a cast that also features Helen Hayes Award winner Terry Burrell (Thoroughly Modern Millie) as Aunt Duke/Mildred/Reporter, JMichael as Francis and C.E. Smith (The Full Monty) as Cousin Fred/Rev. Lawrence/Dorsey/Reporter.
Completing the company are organist Edward E. Ridley, Jr. and the local gospel choirs Wings Over Jordan, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Prayer Warriors, Inspirational Voices of Peace and The Greater Cleveland Panhellenic Choir, who join in the closing number, "Move On Up A Little Higher."
"A fusion of narrative, riveting dialogue scenes, and over two dozen songs," Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, press notes state, "traces the life and career of the world's most loved gospel singer from her birth in New Orleans as a grandchild of plantation slaves through her rise to wealth and international fame. Mahalia won her first success on the gospel circuit, then goes on to phenomenal triumph at New York's Carnegie Hall and the great concert stages of the world. Mahalia also lent her songs and spirit to the struggle for civil rights and became known as the 'Voice of the Movement.'"
Designing the Cleveland production are Emily Beck (scenic design), Austin Sanderson (costume design), William H. Grant III (lighting design) and James C. Swonger (sound design). Cast member JMichael serves as musical director. Tickets are available by visiting clevelandplayhouse.com or by phoning (216) 795-7000.
Founded in 1915, the Cleveland Play House has presented the world premieres of Randal Myler's It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues, Michele Lowe's The Smell of the Kill, Eric Coble's Bright Ideas and Seth Greenland's Jerusalem.