Friday, February 4, 2022

2008 Windham graduate 'fulfills her soul' on Broadway stage

By Lorraine Glowczak

2008 Windham High School graduate Chelsea Williams
is currently performing in the national Broadway tour
of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' across America.
Chelsea Williams lives her dream as an actor, currently performing on a Broadway national tour in the ensemble of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and being an understudy of the Mary Magdalene role.

The 2008 Windham High School (WHS) graduate got her first big break performing in the role of Sophie on the Broadway national tour of “Mamma Mia” in 2013.

However, Williams wasn’t fully aware of what she “planned to do with her one wild and precious life” as poet Mary Oliver famously asked of her readers. But sometime during her late years at WHS, a certain level of clarity swiftly came into view.

“All I ever wanted to do as a child was pretend act, and it was something I continued to do long after the other kids stopped doing it,” Williams said. “Acting was always inside of me, but the thing is – I had major stage fright, so it never really occurred to me to go into this field as a profession.”

Singing is also a passion of Williams. At age 12, she began taking voice lessons and performing in choirs. She was also a member of the WHS’ Windham Chamber Singers.

Williams found that singing was easier than acting because she could hide in the background without the spotlight focusing on her. It wasn’t until she unknowingly challenged herself during her late high school years that the acting bug took hold and began to soar. 

“I auditioned for my first play in high school because my best friend wanted to try out, and I wanted to do it with her,” Williams said. “We both got a role, and that experience was a game-changer for me. From then on, acting was something I knew I wanted to do – and music was, and continues to be, my religion. Both activities fill my soul.”

As with every meaningful life experience, Williams’ path from Windham to New York City took hard work and courage.

Upon graduation from WHS, Williams earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater from Emerson College in Boston in 2012. She remained in Boston, selling pastries at an upscale bakery during the early morning hours and bartending in the evening while performing at local Summer Stock Theaters and other professional theater groups. Although she dreamed of moving to New York City to make her big break, it took confidence and bravery on her part to finally make a move to the Big Apple.

“I was pretty intimidated by the thought of moving to New York,” Williams said. “Between the competition on Broadway and the cost that comes with living there, it seemed like a huge challenge. But I decided to work my tail off to save money; I took deep breaths and small steps toward action.”

For one year, Williams said she would often work her morning shift at the bakery and the evening shift at the bar and then hop on the train to New York for an audition.

“I would often travel on the train from Boston to New York at around midnight, arriving in the city around 5 a.m. and then go stand in line for an audition, returning to Boston that same day.”

Within seven months of repeated long-distance auditions, Williams accepted an offer to perform on a Broadway national tour of “Mamma Mia.” She toured for almost two years, playing Sophie in different cities around the U.S.

“Being selected to tour with “Mamma Mia” was the gift that kept on giving,” Williams said. “It was my first national tour and my first show performing in Las Vegas at the Tropicana. Then, toward the end of my second year with the company, I was asked to be a in the ensemble and understudy for the role of Sophie on Broadway. It was at this point I finally made my move to act and live in New York.”

Williams acknowledges that she had encouragement and support from family, friends, and mentors.

“I feel very fortunate and grateful to be surrounded by so many special people who encouraged me to follow my dream,” Williams said. “I had many mentors growing up that included my coaches, teachers, and theater directors.”

Williams made special mention of theater director John Miele, track coach Jeff Riddle, and musical director Dr. Richard Nickerson as a source of inspiration. She also acknowledges her family.

“When I decided to take theater more seriously, I was made to feel like I deserved it. My parents, grandparents, and mentors believed in me and never told me that I should never go into acting even though it is a risk. I have met a lot of people in the industry that were discouraged from acting because it is not an easy path – there is no stability, no retirement.”

Now that she has “made it,” Williams offers inspiration and encouragement to others to follow their dreams. She recently visited WHS to perform as a special guest with the Windham Chambers Singers at their annual American Family Holiday Tradition (AmFam) this past December.

During her performance at the event, she sang with chamber singer and senior Madelyne Hancock, who starred as Sophie in WHS’ performance of “Mamma Mia” this past fall.

“It was such a privilege to be able to sing with Chelsea during AmFam,” Hancock said. “My excitement built up for quite some time because Dr. Nick shared his idea with me while we were early in the rehearsal process for ‘Mamma Mia.’ The day before AmFam, Chelsea came to rehearse, and we got to listen to her sing, and she sounded amazing. We finally got around to rehearsing our medley of songs from ‘Mamma Mia.’ It was such a unique experience because as a junior, Chelsea played Millie in ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at the high school and got to perform with Susan Eagen, who played the part on Broadway. Chelsea shared so many interesting stories with us and treated each and every one of us with courtesy. She set a wonderful example for me as both a performer and a person.”

Recently, the WHS choral and chamber singers traveled to Boston to watch Williams perform while the tour stopped in Massachusetts. Hancock said it was nice to see Williams’ performance in a different context. Other students expressed their amazement.

“During AmFam, Chelsea showed us a warmup exercise that the cast of JCS uses to connect with one another before the show. Watching the show, it is obvious how close the cast is to one another,” said Teddy Becker, a WHS junior.

Other students agree.

“Even though it wasn’t a traditional ‘happy’ show, I found it very uplifting. Chelsea was amazing to watch,” said freshman Gabriel Morales.

Freshman Riley Yates was inspired by Williams in several ways and was enthralled by the fact that “she once walked the same hallways that we do.”

Williams offers advice for those who wish to follow their dreams, whether in acting or otherwise. She said she would highly advise those who want to make a career in the arts, which tends to be a profession with little stability, is to arrange and plan their future finances so one can be prepared during the lean times. Also, she advises against comparing yourself with others.

“One important thing I still have to tell myself is life and career do not happen the same way for anyone,” Williams said. “It is easy to look at others who appear more successful than you and try to imitate their path. To compare yourself only robs you of your personal joy and can even hinder progress and success. The more you keep your blinders on – the more you stay your own course, the happier you will be. When I don’t compare myself to others, it empowers me to connect with my friends more deeply and be genuinely happy for their successes. Don’t focus on what you are missing or lacking, instead think of all that you have and what lies ahead.”

“Jesus Christ Superstar” just finished its performances in Providence, Rhode Island, and is heading to Cleveland, Ohio, and will be there until Feb. 22. After that, the tour will continue around the U.S., with the last performances of the season to end on Aug. 7. <

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.