Daily Record: “Singer-actress Vanessa Williams kicks off the season at Mayo Performing Arts Center”

September 12 2018

Read the Daily Record’s feature story on Vanessa Williams and her performance at MPAC Friday, September 14!

Daily Record: “Singer-actress Vanessa Williams kicks off the season at Mayo Performing Arts Center”

By Bill Nutt

Asked to describe her live performances, singer-actress Vanessa Williams observed that she typically begins with material from her first album, “The Right Stuff,” which was released in 1988.

Then she stopped short. “Good Lord, 30 years,” she said with a laugh.

Rather than bemoan the passage of time, however, Williams expressed appreciation for a career that she has been able to maintain in the face of some ups and one rather notorious down.

“I’m incredibly lucky to do what I love to do,” said Williams, whose work has been nominated for the Tony, the Grammy, and the Emmy. “Performing is a joy for me. I love it. It never gets boring.”

Williams will next get to indulge in her love of performing on Friday, September 14, with a concert at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. The show kicks off the 2018-19 season at the Morristown venue.

The set list will include some of Williams’ best-known songs, including the Number One hits “Save the Best for Last” and “The Colors of the Wind.” She also usually incorporates at least one set of jazz and Broadway standards.

She may also dip into her upcoming album, “Being Good.” The title comes from the song “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” written for the musical “Hallelujah, Baby!”

“This album is my American song book,” explained Williams. “These are the songs that are in my bones.”

A native of the Bronx, Williams grew up surrounded by music. “It was natural and expected of us to take up a musical instrument,” she said. She played piano and also participated in the school marching band and chorus.

As a student at Syracuse University, she was encouraged to participate in a local beauty pageant. The possibility of a scholarship gave her the incentive, though she had never previously competed in pageants.

Winning Miss Syracuse led to the Miss New York pageant. In September 1983, Williams was crowned Miss America, the first African-American woman to be so honored.

But the following year, that fame soured when unauthorized nude photographs of her appeared in Penthouse magazine. She had to resign as Miss America in the summer of 1984.

“I was 20 when I became famous,” she said. “I was 21 when it went to hell. What I went through at a young age was tough. But the way I navigated it, and having parents who were there for me, gave me the confidence to go on.”

For Williams, that meant earning a reputation as both an actress and a singer. She turned in an acclaimed performance in the title role of “The Kiss of the Spider Woman,” the musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the team behind “Cabaret” and “Chicago.”

She later received a Tony nomination for her performance as the Witch in the revival of “Into the Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical.

“I’ve been lucky to work with fantastic people,” Williams said. “When you have great material, it makes it easy.”

A solid reception to her debut album (which included the song “Dreamin’”) was followed by the romantic ballad “Save the Best for Last.”  “It had a melody I couldn’t get out of my head,” Williams said.

She also climbed the charts with “The Colors of the Wind” from the animated film “Pocahontas.” “You always hope a song succeeds,” she said. “I had a feeling that song would have longs. Plus, I got to sing it at the Academy Awards (ceremony).”

Between her stage roles and recordings, Williams also gave witty performances in the TV series “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives.”  “I get hired to play these bitchy, glamorous women,” she said with a chuckle.

For all the success, though, Williams said she has no intention of resting on her laurels.  “I don’t have a bucket list,” she said. “My dream role is still out there. It hasn’t been written yet. But I’m still looking.”

IF YOU GO: VANESSA WILLIAMS

WHAT: The singer-actress performs selections from her 30-year show business career, including “Save the Best for Last” and “The Colors of the Wind.”  The concert kicks off the 2018-19 season for the Mayo PAC.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fri., September 14.

WHERE: Mayo Performing Arts Center, 100 South St., Morristown

TICKETS: $49 to $99

INFORMATION: 973-539-8008 or www.mayoarts.org.

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Mayo Performing Arts Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, presents a wide range of programs that entertain, enrich, and educate the diverse population of the region and enhance the economic vitality of Northern New Jersey.

MPAC is grateful to the following donors whose major support sustains the general operating needs of our organization:

Discover Jersey Arts NJ State Council on the Arts
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