Joining musical's cast was her 'Destiny'

ASSOCIATED PRESS Michelle Williams, a former "Destiny's Child" member, is giving musical theater a try as part of the cast of "Fela!"
ASSOCIATED PRESS Michelle Williams, a former "Destiny's Child" member, is giving musical theater a try as part of the cast of "Fela!"
Posted: March 13, 2013

YOU HEARD IT here first, people: Destiny's Child's Michelle Williams may very well be psychic.

Bear with me now.

Williams, who is starring in "Fela!" at the Merriam Theater starting Tuesday and running through Sunday, became a fan of Fela Kuti's music about five years ago through a friend.

"I love the groovy music where the bass could go on for hours," Williams told me.

So, she started researching as much as she could about the Afrobeat musician and political activist. "I didn't know I was preparing myself for this role."

It was the second time Williams had become so thoroughly entrenched. The first time? When she picked up Destiny's Child's "Writings on the Wall" album. Two months later, she got a call asking her to be a part of the group.

"Next, I'm going to go jewelry stores and try on wedding rings," Williams said about her potential powers of foresight.

Maybe Williams can do some Jewelers' Row shopping while she's in town playing Sandra Isadore, one of Fela's three wives in the Broadway musical, produced by some hotshot names including Philly's own Will Smith and the Roots' drummer , Questlove.

"I wonder if [fellow producer] Jay-Z and Questlove have brought in a new audience," Williams said. "[The other night] in the audience in Atlanta, we had people from Nigeria in traditional garb and young men from the 'hood in jeans, hoodies and Timberland boots."

Williams has been performing in musical theater regularly since Destiny's Child went on hiatus in 2005, but her perfect role may not be in a musical.

"I definitely got my eye on a Tony Award, so I would have to originate a role or revive a role that hasn't been on Broadway in a looooooong time," Williams told me. "I want to take a stab at doing something that's not a musical, kind of like an Angela Bassett type of thing."

* Speaking of Tony Awards, nominee Forrest McClendon is doing workshops with four Philly high schools - Girls High, South Philadelphia High, Constitution High and Nueva Esperanza - on the Othello Project.

McClendon, who was nominated for a Tony for his performance in "The Scottsboro Boys" in 2011, will teach students about William Shakespeare's "Othello," coinciding with McClendon's own appearance as the tragic Moor at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, running from Wednesday through May 18.

"What makes this a really incredible project is that I get to use theater as a vehicle for education without apologizing," McClendon said. "So frequently, those who cannot do, teach, and this literally turns this idea completely on its head. The play is the lesson, and the actor is the teacher."

McClendon couldn't tell me what his plans post-"Othello" were yet, but he says it involves performing internationally.

. . . Even more Tonys

Former State Rep. Tony Payton Jr. popped the question to his girlfriend of two years, Melissa Knight, a lawyer at Stradley Ronon. They'll be tying the knot Dec. 27 at the Please Touch Museum. It's the first marriage for both.

Want to congratulate Payton and Knight in person? The couple will be participating the Broad Street Run together with the Fairmount Park Conservancy, one of the few teams that still has bibs available for the ever-popular race. The conservancy is hoping to raise money for the Belmont Plateau, which offers one of my favorite views of the city, along with other Philly green spaces. To join in, check out crowdrise.com/fairmountparkconservancy.

Payton is a four-time Broad Street runner, but Knight can hold her own. The Penn Charter alum played Division I basketball at the University of Miami. So, who will win the race? "I beat her last year," Payton told me.

The sporting life

SugarHouse Casino is hosting an event from 6-8 p.m. Thursday for athletes from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Casey from Wired 96.5 will emcee, and the fabulous Brittany Lynn and her Drag Mafia will provide the entertainment.

In addition, trainers from 12th Street Gym will offer workout tips, while stylists from the Andre Rich Salon will spill makeover secrets.

To attend, send your full name, number, age and number of guests to sugarhouseLGBT@gmail.com.


Email: eichelm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @PhillyGossipDN

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