Hometown: Fayetteville, North Carolina
Currently: Stopping the show nightly as tough-yet-lovable Sofia in The Color Purple.
Sing Out, NaTasha: At age 3, Williams joined her church's "tiny tot" choir and honed her performance skills as a child in front of the TV with her family. "We used to watch Sonny and Cher, and when Chastity, their daughter, would sing with them, we'd sing along—my mother would be Cher and I'd be Chastity," she remembers with a laugh. "I didn't do a lot of theater when I was young. All I knew is that I wanted to perform, so I thought, 'I want to be on television and have families sitting and singing to my songs or laughing at my jokes,' like we were laughing at the Jacksons."
A Winning Equation: While Williams continued to explore the world of the stage, Mom was more practical, steering NaTasha to become a math major at North Carolina A&T State University. "She was like, 'Yes, you're wonderful, but let's make sure we can have a job.' So I was gonna teach math and act in plays." That plan lasted for a year after college: "I taught five different subjects over my first year," she says, "and the experience was wonderful, but in the end, I was just, 'Okay—I can't do this.'" With $300 and a train pass, Williams relocated to Port Chester, NY, moving in with her aunt to pursue her true dream.
Hell Yes! Williams has been pursuing Purple since its pre-Broadway run in Atlanta. "I'd asked to be seen for Sofia and they were like, 'No, you're the gospel singer,'" she says. Finally, she got the chance to be heard at an audition for the touring company. "I'd flown in from Milwaukee and the All Shook Up tour," she remembers, "and they finally gave me sides for Sofia, to understudy. It felt very graceful— like I was singin' in my living room." Williams left believing she'd landed a featured role on the tour. "They called a couple days later and told me to sit down," she says, tearing up at the memory. "They wanted me to be Sofia on Broadway."
Star Quality: Williams has nothing but praise for Purple's acclaimed new leading lady Fantasia, citing her down-to-earth nature and dedicated work ethic. "She's like a sponge," Williams muses, "just in terms of taking everything in and not asserting herself around us. She's truly a star, but she understands her stardom is due to something totally bigger than her. She's an ordinary person whom God has placed an extraordinary gift on. And that spirit is contagious—she challenges us to connect with what we're doing, and give it all like it's the last time we're doing it."
Peace and Serenity: In addition to her stage work, Williams has produced two CDs of gospel music, with a third on the way written and produced by Chaz Lamar Shepard, who co-stars as Harpo in the show. "I'm a more traditional kind of sound, and he's contemporary, which is just great," she says. "He's pulling some different kinds of things out of me." In the meantime, she's counting her blessings for her Broadway debut. "The energy that surrounds Sofia—it's as if I were able to fly," she says. "A lightness and love that lifts is what I feel doing this role. It's my cup of joy and grace. Every night is just pie and pineapples, which are my favorite. I want everyone I know to experience this joy about whatever you're doing in your life."