Shanice Williams may be living her dream, but soon after she learned that she would be starring in NBC’s presentation of The Wiz Live! as Dorothy, the New Jersey native was thrust into the reality of carrying a major production and sharing the stage with luminaries such as Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige and David Alan Grier. For the actress, her first major gig has definitely been a learn-as-you-go experience that she’s navigated surprisingly well. First and foremost, she had to get over any anxiety she had about her big name co-stars.
“It took a lot of ‘Shanice, they’re just normal people, just chill,’” she says with a giggle. “I wanted them to be comfortable with me and when I got into rehearsals I realized how chill everybody was and everyone was so welcoming. It was a lot easier than I thought.”
A big help has been the advice of both her director Kenny Leon and the legendary Stephanie Mills, the original production’s Dorothy who stars in this version as Aunt Em.
“They tell me to take everything one step at a time,” Williams shares. “Honestly, it’s crazy right now. It’s like a rollercoaster. So, I just live in the moment because I’m never going to get this experience again to do this show with these people. The most important thing is to stay humble, no matter what anyone says. You just have to remember that it’s all about the work.”
The 18-year-old has been enamored with the stage since childhood and she used theater as a way to build confidence and find her true self.
“I grew up an only child and I would always find ways to keep myself entertained,” she says. “I was always singing in my house and my grandmother’s house and just dancing around. When I got the reaction of people, I was like, ‘Wow, this is cool!’ I liked to perform and I knew that was what I wanted to do. And in middle school, when I got onstage, honestly—I always felt like I didn’t fit in when I was growing up. But I realized onstage that this was where I belonged. I saw my first Broadway show at a really young age and was like, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’”
She would become a drama standout at Rahway High School and won raves doing regional theater before she went off to college. After spending some time at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles, Williams soon realized that her heart was back East.
“I went to college in Los Angeles for a year. I love L.A. but I love New York, too. I definitely felt like New York was where I belonged—when it’s warm! But the school that I was at, I wasn’t getting what I needed. That was the only reason I left,” she recalls. “Of course, there’s no real Broadway in L.A. So, New York was a little better for me.”
And now, the dreamer from Jersey has landed the role of a lifetime. There are pressures, but she doesn’t run from them.
“Going into your first job and having a lead role, you just learn a lot. You have to stay focused 100 percent of the time. There’s only one scene that I’m not in. It takes a lot to get your mind right and be focused 100 percent of the time,” she says.