Director Schele Williams Gives an Update on the Aida Revival

Seth Rudetsky   Director Schele Williams Gives an Update on the Aida Revival
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from The Supremes' early days, Schele Williams’ auditions for Rent, a Cats original cast reunion, and more.
Schele Williams
Schele Williams Marc J. Franklin

Stars In The House has been raising money for NAACP Legal Defense Fund since June 1 and we’ve had some amazing shows, which you can watch whenever you want. They’re all at StarsInTheHouse.com. Mary Wilson from The Supremes was a guest and told us about what it was like in the early days of Motown. P.S. I love that whenever she mentions Diana Ross, she calls her “Diane” because that’s what she was known as when they were both teenagers.

Mary talked about the racism they dealt when they toured the South with performers like The Miracles and “Little” Stevie Wonder. At one point, they played in Birmingham and it was the first time an integrated audience got to see a show in that community. The show went great, but as they were leaving, they thought someone was throwing rocks at them. Turns out, they were being shot at! They scrambled onto the bus and after it traveled a while, they got out to inspect the vehicle to make sure they weren’t imagining it. There were, indeed, bullet holes through some of the windows. I so admire the bravery it took to tour through these towns where, yes, they were playing to adoring crowds, while simultaneously met with hostility and danger.

Here’s some amazing footage of them when they were just starting out. They’re only 19! P.S. These are the original Supremes with Mary, “Diane,” and Florence Ballard, whose story can be found here. On a related note, Mary is working to get the Post Office to issue a commemorative stamp in honor of Florence Ballard.

Watch them here!

We also welcomed Schele (pronounced Shelly) Williams on Stars In The House. We first met when she was playing Nehebka in Aida. She recalled that throughout various shows she’s been in, she would stand in the wings and think “If I directed this show….” Naturally, she would think that during Aida. Cut to: She no longer fantasizes about her directorial choices for Aida because she’s slated to direct the revival! The new Aida was supposed to start at Paper Mill, then do a national tour, and then go to Germany (and hopefully Broadway and the West End). Because of COVID-19, the first two places are out so they’re aiming to premier in Germany.

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Cynthia Vance, Michael McElroy, Schele Williams, and Thomas Schumacher Valerie Terranova

Germans love musical theatre. I did a tour of A Chorus Line there and they ate it up! Speaking of eating, I was also horrified about how many things there came with sauerkraut. It was like a comedy sketch…I couldn’t escape it, no matter what I ordered. Finally, I decided to just order simple spaghetti and tomato sauce…and it came on top of sauerkraut!!!

Back to Schele: Her first gig in NYC was selling t-shirts in the lobby of the Nederlander Theatre when Rent premiered. She would watch it every night and then go to audition. Over and over again. Nothing. Finally, she found out that they were looking for (what they thought was) fresh talent. They didn’t want experienced actors, which is bizarre to me because many people in the original cast had performing backgrounds/training (AKA Idina graduated with a theatre degree from NYU). Regardless, this time, instead of wearing what she wear at a normal Broadway audition (a.k.a. looking put-together), she went with her hair wet and not dressed up at all. Furthermore, the pic and resume she gave in was simply a sheet of paper… where she scrawled her name. Yep, the ol’ “I don’t have a resume because I barely know what one is…what is theatre? Here’s the best I can do. A signed piece of random paper.” Well, that did it!

She was the same person with the same voice, but the perception of rawness got her the national tour and then the show on Broadway. P.S. Schele was in my Hair concert for The Actors Fund and I just found this fun footage of a press event we did with Darius DeHaas singing “Aquarius” and Raul Esparza singing “Hair”! Plus, it includes an interview with the wonderful composer Galt MacDermott.

Stars In The House hosted a reunion of some of the Broadway stars from the original Cats—and it was the cat’s meow! (Horrific joke courtesy of me being over 40). Betty Buckley (Grizabella), Ken Page (Old Deuteronomy), Donna King (Bombalurina), Terrence Mann (Rum Tum Tugger), and Charlotte d’Amboise (replacement Cassandra) all showed up. Ken and Betty talked about the final scene where he helps her ascend to the so-called Heavyside Layer. They added a moment where their hands would slide across each other and they would touch their fingertips…reminiscent of Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.” Betty and Ken loved that their contribution then made it into the classic Cats commercial.

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Betty Buckley as Grizabella

Terrence told us about when Charlotte joined the cast as Cassandra. He remembers watching her put-in rehearsal and thinking she was amazing…then when he watched her that night in performance, he thought she was even more incredible. He claims he thought to himself “Wow! She’s so talented. I’ll never be able to be that talented. But…maybe I can date it.” He did indeed “date it” and they’re now married with two daughters!

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Terrence Mann and Donna King

Betty also came on our show as a solo star on Wednesday and told hilarious stories. She grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, with three brothers. Her twin brothers are three years younger and Norman is eight years younger. She told us that she was the family babysitter and would often make her brothers practice what to do if they were attacked. Attacked by whom? I don’t know. Regardless, they’d be watching TV and she would suddenly sound her alarm (basically a precursor to her Broadway belting) which was the cue for her brothers to scatter and hide. She had two butcher knives on her person (!) and she’d stand at the top of the stairs and announce loudly, “We have guns! Don’t come in here!” She’d then give the all clear signal and everyone would leave their hiding places and come back and watch TV. Well, one day, her mom came home and noticed Norman was missing. Betty realized she forgot to give the all clear signal! Her mom searched all over the house with Betty following her quietly and finally they found him right where Betty told him to hide…inside the dirty laundry hamper! Betty said he’d been in there for a long time! To this day, Betty feels guilty. She claims that the ordeal is why Norman seeks his revenge every once in a while. He’s now a TV director and, years ago, cast her in an episode of Melrose Place. Betty said that while she was filming, he stood off to the side and tilted his head up repeatedly and patted his neck. He was indicating that her neck was looking old and she needed to lift her chin throughout the scene! Here’s the scene and, P.S., her neck looks great!

Last night was the second of my new digital concert series. Jeremy Jordan sang up a storm! He was about to take over as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors when COVID-19 hit. He said they had finished a run-through of Act 1 and were told to go home, which he thought would be for a month. Cut to: June. Well, because people never got to see him do it, we ended the concert with “Suddenly Seymour”…and yes, I sang Audrey!

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In this new series, we do the concert completely live on Sundays at 8PM and then we air the tape on Mondays at 3PM so there’s still time to see it!

We’ve also announced who’s coming up: Jessie Mueller, Audra McDonald, Melissa Ericco, and Lea Salonga! You can get tickets for today’s 3PM concert and all upcoming ones at TheSethConcertSeries.com.

Speaking of doing a concert with Jessie Mueller, someone just posted this clip of me and Jessie in Provincetown where she’s singing “Ice Cream.” She won a Tony for playing belter Carole King, but, man, her soprano is so amazing!!! Watch this then peace out!

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