Regardless of how she fares at the Tony Awards next Sunday, NaTasha Yvette Williams is elated to be part of a Broadway project that allows her to “soar and be a powerful example for others.”
The actor and singer is giving a dynamite performance in “Some Like It Hot,” now playing at New York’s Shubert Theatre. Like the 1959 movie on which it’s based, “Some Like It Hot” tells the story of two Prohibition-era musicians, Joe (played by Christian Borle) and Jerry (J. Harrison Ghee), who disguise themselves in drag and join an all-women band on a cross-country tour to escape Chicago after witnessing a mob hit.
A Tony nominee for best featured actress in a musical, Williams plays the band’s brassy yet nurturing leader, Sweet Sue. Though Sweet Sue was a minor character in the film, the role has been greatly expanded for the stage adaptation, which features songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The character opens the show with a rousing jazz number, “What Are You Thirsty For,” and is featured prominently in “Tip-Tap Trouble,” a wildly intricate dance sequence in the second act.
NaTasha Yvette Williams (center) stars as Sweet Sue in the musical "Some Like It Hot," now on Broadway.
“I just feel celebrated and it’s an incredible feeling,” Williams told HuffPost. “I’m a big Black woman who is funny sometimes and serious at other times, [and] a lot of women come up to me after the show and say: ‘Wow, it really made me feel great to see you up there, dancing and moving and in control.’ They see this full-figured woman in me and know I don’t have to be limited to standing still in the corner or being in the back.”
Along with Williams’ nod, “Some Like It Hot” received an additional 12 Tony nominations — including best musical and a historic honor for Ghee, who is nonbinary — making it this season’s most-nominated theatrical production.
The original “Some Like It Hot” starred Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, and is regarded as one of the most beloved romantic-comedy films of all time. Still, the movie features an all-white cast, and its allusions to a queer romance ― though groundbreaking for its time ― seem hopelessly dated by 2023 standards.
For her part, Williams credits the show’s book writers, Matthew López and Amber Ruffin, with being “very specific about diversity and inclusion” in order to make the 64-year-old story viable for a contemporary audience, noting: “I love that people in the theater are feeling good about themselves in whatever body and whatever skin they’re in.”
“I love that people in the theater are feeling good about themselves in whatever body and whatever skin they’re in,” said Williams (center, with co-stars Adrianna Hicks and Angie Schworer).
Williams, who grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, made her Broadway debut in “The Color Purple” in 2005. Since then, she’s been a stalwart of the New York stage, appearing in “Porgy and Bess,” “Chicago” and “Waitress,” among other musicals, as well as plays like “Chicken & Biscuits.” She’s also racked up a substantial number of television and film credits, including “Madam Secretary,” “New Amsterdam” and the Disney+ movie-musical “Better Nate Than Ever.”
When she’s not performing, Williams has spent the past decade or so at work on a passion project. She’s written a screenplay titled “Beyond the Diamond,” which dramatizes the life of baseball legend Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, who in 1954 became the first female pitcher in the Negro Leagues.
Though Williams is still working to secure a production team for “Beyond the Diamond,” she’s “very pleased” with how the project has developed thus far.
“I just feel celebrated and it’s an incredible feeling,” Williams said of her 2023 Tony Award nomination.
“I want to highlight the strength of a woman and how, when you’re focused on your goal, all of the challenges you have are surmountable,” she said. “Focus on your goal and, yes, challenges will come and things won’t be easy, but you get triumph over them if you stay focused.”
For the foreseeable future, Williams’ primary focus will be “Some Like It Hot” and delivering that full-throttle portrayal of Sweet Sue eight times a week. Ultimately, she’d like the accolades she’s received for that performance to remind viewers that “there are no limits.”
“It just feels incredibly rewarding to be having this experience coming out of the pandemic, and in a show that I really love and care about,” she said. “I’ve been out here a long time, so this will be a collective, community kind of Tony.”
Williams (right) poses with her "Some Like It Hot" co-stars Kevin Del Aguila, J. Harrison Ghee and Christian Borle.