Keala Settle, a 2013 Tony Award nominee for her performance as big-hearted and big-voiced Texan Norma Valverde, confessed that bringing down the house at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre this season — with her show-stopping ballad "Joy of the Lord" — went far beyond an uncontrolled fit of laughter.
"It was horrifying!" Settle told Playbill.com at the May 1 Tony Award nominees press junket. "I mean, I am one of those people who actually likes to hide… So this is probably not a good business for me!"
Settle, a Hawaiian native who claims her strongest suit falls in the world of R&B — her mother was an R&B singer in New Zealand — began to battle stage fright when she was thrust into the limelight during the national tour of Hairspray. As actress Carly Jibson prepped for her Broadway bow, Settle, the Tracy Turnblad standby, settled into her starring turn.
Years later, the actress — now a nominee for the 2013 Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Tony Award — would take her career to new heights, delivering a breakout performance in the short-lived new Broadway musical Hands on a Hardbody — about doing what it takes to get what one wants — and becoming a favorite among the show's fans.
"I'll never forget when we did the invited dress before our first preview, and I walked out [of] the [stage] door, and there were screaming people, and I tried to run away," she admitted. "And, one of my cast members was behind me and said, 'Keala, you don't understand… A lot of them want to see you!' And, I [said], 'There's just no way. There's nobody out here. That's a lie!' … I couldn't handle it. Sometimes I still can't handle it because it's embarrassing to me for some reason, but I manage to stand there and listen to these people and talk to them — to see what kind of an impact we've made on them as performers, telling the story that we were telling — and it was incredible. It opened my eyes to not be afraid. It literally was…life-changing."