Vanessa Williams on Playing the First Lady in Her Return to Broadway (Exclusive)

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After eight years away, Vanessa Williams is making her return to Broadway as the first lady and one of “the women in charge of the man in charge of the free world” in POTUS, a new comedy from playwright Selina Fillinger. 

“It is really wonderful to be a part of something that is so innovative,” she tells ET’s Rachel Smith about the ensemble production directed by Susan Stroman and also starring Julianne Hough, Julie White, Lea DeLaria, Lilli Cooper, Rachel Dratch and Suzy Nakamura. 

Together, they play the seven women forced to deal with an unexpected PR nightmare and keep the commander-in-chief out of trouble after the use of a four-letter word rocks the White House.

“We see all the ladies behind the scenes, and that’s what this all is about,” Williams says, before teasing what’s said that kicks off the whole show. “I don’t wanna give away the first line of the play, but we go right there. So, get ready and sit tight because we’re starting really strong.” 

As a result, “there are some guests that show up to the White House that are a surprise and kind of unwanted,” she says of what follows. And as the wife of the president, “there is a deceit that I’m trying to keep the news away from,” she continues. “There’s a lot of jockeying for positions that happens everywhere – in corporations, in family life – but this is in the White House.” 

POTUS
POTUS / Playbill

The actress, who turns 59 years old on March 18, is quick to point out that while this play takes place on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there is no political agenda. “It’s not about anyone who is in office right now. This is a fictitious character.” 

That said, Williams did turn to former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama for advice about life inside the White House and extended both an invite to the show. “I hope she’ll come,” she says, noting that Obama saw her perform alongside Cicely Tyson in the 2013 production of A Trip to the Bountiful

“It’s always amazing when you’re backstage and you hear someone is in the audience,” Williams continues. “So, I’m sure we’ll have a few first ladies come to see this.” 

Until then, the actress is busy with rehearsals ahead of the production’s first preview on April 14, especially considering how different this show is compared to other performances she’s done. “There’s a lot of stunts and practical things that will be worked out,” she says of all the physical comedy. 

But all that preparation means she’ll likely be spending her birthday with her co-stars. “I will be in rehearsals, so I’m sure there’ll be a cake and some champagne,” Williams says, before sharing what she’s most looking forward to. “I’m ready for the next phase. I mean, a lot of friends have already gotten there and life goes on and life is great. You keep asking for more, and more comes.”

Williams adds, “I can’t wait to see what’s next in my 60s.”  


Performances of POTUS begin Thursday, April 14, at the Shubert Theatre before officially opening Monday, May 9 for a limited engagement through Sunday, August 14.

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