A Whole New "Ball" Game: Keke Palmer and Sherri Shepherd Make Historic Broadway Debuts in Cinderella

By Karu F. Daniels
25 Aug 2014

Keke Palmer
Keke Palmer

Playbill.com catches up with Keke Palmer and Sherri Shepherd, who are about to make their Broadway debuts in Rodgers and Hammerstein's fairy-tale musical Cinderella.

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Keke Palmer and Sherri Shepherd may be sharing a history-making moment by joining the cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella Sept. 9, but the two Chicago-area natives have more in common than getting suited up in corsets and billowy gowns for the musical, currently playing at The Broadway Theatre.

In 2012, both starred in the Lifetime network movie "Abducted: The Carlina White Story." Shepherd — who recently wrapped up a seven-year stint on ABC's "The View" — played a mother reuniting with the newborn baby stolen from her decades before. Palmer — who made history in June as the youngest person to host a daytime talk show (BET's "Just Keke") — portrayed the title role in the award-winning telepic based on a true story.

As previously reported, the 21-year old former Nickelodeon star ("True Jackson VP") will make history as the first African American to play the role of Cinderella on Broadway.

And during a recent interview with Playbill.com, she was sort of at a loss for words about the achievement.

"I don't think there are really words that can be expressed to say how I feel. I just try to be gracious in everything I do to show my appreciation," Palmer said.

Of the momentous feat, Shepherd shared: "Wow, she's the first black woman to play Cinderella [on Broadway], and I don't know if I'm the first black woman playing Madame, but to be making history, I am so thrilled that she's doing this. I just think Keke has been under the radar for so long and now she has this star that's shining so brightly, and I love that. More people are getting to see what this girl can do."

This is the first foray into musical theatre and on the Broadway stage for both actresses and talk show hosts — and as can be expected, both of their nerves are aflutter.

Sherri Shepherd

"What makes me most nervous is probably learning that whole body of work and performing it every night," the "Akeelah and the Bee" star shared. "Once I do it, it will be done, but I'm a little bit nervous in making sure I can memorize all the lines. It's never been a problem for me before, but again I never had to memorize a whole script.

"That's probably one of the things that I am nervous about," she continued. "Everything else I think is okay because I like to move a lot. I don't know if I'm ADD — that wouldn't be hard to believe — but the staging and stuff like that, that would be fun for me. But memorization is probably the main thing that I'm thinking about. "

A renowned stand-up comic and former sitcom star herself, Shepherd is a little more concerned about starring in a Broadway musical and singing professionally. "I never have," she confessed. "This is a first for me. Being on Broadway has always been a dream of mine, so this is a dream come true, but I'm really nervous. I'm scared, I'm excited, I'm thrilled. It's a myriad of feelings going through my body right now."

Shepherd joked that being at the roundtable of the ABC gabfest for so many years and mastering the term "No, let me finish talking" gives her a little comfort in playing the evil stepmother, which was previously played by another notable TV personality, Fran Drescher (of "The Nanny").

"I learned how to fit in at 'The View,' and I will apply it to the evil stepmother role," she added. "It will be fun because I'm a team player and there will be other cast members on that stage, and since I already learned to gel very quickly with folks that I don't know, this is really going to be easy to jump into."

Shepherd revealed she was originally approached to take on the role after Drescher finished her six-month stint but time constraints prohibited her from accepting the offer then. "It was just not feasible. I didn't think that I could give it everything that it needed to be given.

Palmer and Shepherd in rehearsal

"So it really, really worked out as I was stepping away from 'The View' that this offer came up again and I said 'Oh, I gotta take it,'" she added.

Palmer, currently starring in Showtime's "Masters of Sex" series, said she auditioned for the role while in New York City promoting the TV show.

"My mom said, 'They're doing auditions for Cinderella on Broadway and they would like to see you. I don't know if you're into Broadway, really.' My mom always presents everything to me like she doesn't know if I'm into something. I'm like, 'Mom, you playing, girl,'" she said. "She always does that but my mom and I have a very, very cool type of relationship so I'm like, 'Yes, I would like to do that.'"

Palmer's parents, who are her managers, first met at drama school and were theatre actors before starting their family and then grooming their talented tyke for superstardom. Over the past decade, she has starred in a string of films and TV movies, most notably the aforementioned "Akeelah and the Bee" alongside Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne and the Emmy Award-nominated television adaptation of Horton Foote's The Trip To Bountiful, alongside Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Blair Underwood.

"Because I'm a little older, my mom lets me get my own independence in figuring out the characters on my own," she further explained. "So I performed it for her, the music and the lines and she was like, 'Okay girl, just make sure you go in there and live in that moment.' And my mom's expertise has been in theatre. It's never been in film, so this is exciting for her because she felt like she could really help me and she can really be more hands on with this than ever before. So it was a fun process, and it's going to be an even more fun process once we get into the real crunch."

Palmer is also looking forward to re-connecting with Shepherd, whom her family met 11 years ago at a party when they first relocated to Los Angeles, CA. 

"I'm really excited, not only because I've known her, but also because it's our very first time on Broadway together, and there isn't anybody that I can think of who it would be so much fun to experience this with," she added. "When we did the movie, we actually went out and talked and laughed and we had a friendship and so to work with her on this, it's going to be an even closer bond being built."