NaTasha Yvette Williams was just about to perform live on NBC's Today May 2 when the first five 2023 Tony nominee categories were announced. In fact, she and her Some Like It Hot castmates were attempting to "dry up their tears before we performed," Williams told Playbill that same morning.
After the second performance from the Tony-nominated Best Musical, the company headed to the Peacock Room. "I ran to the bathroom, [and as] I came out of the bathroom, somebody was streaming [the rest of the Tony nominations] from their phone… and we won a couple more," Williams said.
Then, the nominees for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical were revealed. "I walked up to someone and was looking over her shoulder, and I heard Bonnie [Milligan]'s name. And then I heard my name. And then I looked around, and I just started crying. And then I said, 'Is this real? Is this real? Is it real? Is it real? Is it real?' And so I was like, 'OK, somebody slap me!' It was crazy. But it was a beautiful crazy."
Williams, who radiates a palpable joy when she performs, is nominated for her work as Sweet Sue, the bandleader who demonstrates, in song after song, exactly how a band should be led. Not only does she deliver in vocal power, but her expert comic timing provides some of the evening's innumerable laughs.
The Broadway veteran said her first call following the Today performance was to her father, who lives in North Carolina. "I know that he [doesn't] know how to stream anything, and he probably didn't see it," Williams explained. "I called my husband after my dad. He said, 'I've been crying.' And I said, 'I'm still crying.' We're crying. Everybody was crying! It was really really nice. And, he was recording the television. When I got home, he played his tape for me of when he cried. That made me start all over again…It was just amazing to watch his tape."
For Williams, whose Broadway credits also include Chicken & Biscuits, Tina, Waitress, A Night With Janis Joplin, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, The Color Purple, and Chicago, the nomination is a welcome end to an all-too-familiar phrase. "I've said so many years and so many times: 'Maybe next time, maybe next year,'" Williams admitted. She explains that there had been times she hadn't been eligible to be nominated, or times like A Night With Janis Joplin where she was eligible but because she broke her foot, she had missed opening night—moments where she felt the recognition had passed her by.
Luckily this year, Williams' talent is finally being seen. "What this means to me is...if you keep pushing, keep playing...next year, or maybe next time, it does come! It's an incredible encouragement and push for me. It is a realized dream." And what makes it sweeter is to be recognized after the trials of the pandemic, she said. "Just being recognized after such a turbulent three years. Just being in this moment, it's just incredible. Everything about it is incredible. This cast that I'm in, this company, this moment in time, this realization that I don't have to say this year that 'maybe next year I might get nominated.'"
That said, though the Some Like It Hot experience has been incredibly positive and rewarding, the journey has not been without its obstacles: Williams was diagnosed with asthma about a month ago and also now suffers from allergies. But she's not letting it get her down.
"One of the most challenging things about this role is that it's a big role, and I'm singing a lot, and I'm singing low, mostly in my register," Williams shared. "But the challenge is I have these cracks now that I can't really control, and so the challenging part is being able to utilize the wonderful colors of my voice now—that sometimes come with cracks and imperfections. That's been the most challenging, but it's also been one of the most beautiful things, because we as people are so flawed and so imperfect. And, again, I'm the poster child for an imperfect kind of performance, that I have to make sure that I'm connected and just giving truth to. And if I crack, I use it. And so it's a challenge, in that it's requiring my body to do a lot more than I normally would do. But, you know, rewarding in that way as well, even when I don't necessarily hit all the marks."
Tony nominators obviously believe Williams hit all the marks this season, nominating the actor in a field that also includes Into the Woods' Julia Lester, Sweeney Todd's Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimberly Akimbo's Bonnie Milligan, and & Juliet's Betsy Wolfe. The nomination, Williams said, is also "an incredible kind of encouragement, I think, for other people—to say that if you just keep doing it, dreams do come true. I mean, that's an old saying that everybody has said for thousands of years, and it's true."