All you saw was Michelle Williams popping up onstage at the Super Bowl for the Destiny’s Child reunion.
What you didn't know was that behind the scenes, she was pulling double duty. On the nights leading up to the game, she was rehearsing with her bandmates, Beyonce Knowles-Carter and Kelly Rowland. During the day, she was learning her role in "Fela!," the Afrobeat musical about singer-activist Fela Kuti running Tuesday through Sunday at Adrienne Arsht in Miami.
"From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., it was 'Fela!,' "Williams says in a telephone interview. "And then, at 8 or 8:40, I would sneak over to rehearsal with the girls. And this was happening and taking place in New York. There were days when I would be so tired I would sit in the corner and watch the girls. We were all tired. Kelly was recording an album. B was in meetings all day about wardrobe and production and all of that. But we made it work."
Williams has appeared on Broadway in "Aida," "Chicago" and the national tour of "The Color Purple." In "Fela!" she plays Sandra Isadore, a politically savvy woman who met the legendary Nigerian singer in 1969.
"He came to L.A., and he met Sandra and they fell in love," Williams explains. "She really educated him about the movement at the time. She explained how the African experiences [with the military dictatorships] and the African-American experiences were the same thing. She introduced him to the work of Angela Davis, Malcom X, Nikki Giovanni, Martin Luther King. She helped him politicize his music even more. She helped to educate him. It's not just ranting and raving. She gave him all this information, so [he was] actually singing facts. And he listened. At that time, I’m not sure an American man would have listened to a woman. And here he was, a Nigerian man, listening. That tells me that Sandra must have been a bad mama jama."
Even though Williams’ friends Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith produced the musical, she says that had nothing to do with her landing the part. She originally auditioned for "Fela!" director Bill T. Jones ("Spring Awakening") for another show: the stage production of "Superfly," which she still hopes to get.
"I'm not sure, but I hope so," she says, quickly adding, "I would love to do an original production where I originate the role. I got my eye on the Tony."
"Fela!" is at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost from $26 to $56. Call 305-949-6722 or go to ArshtCenter.org.
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