While it’s undeniable that Broadway producers seek out big name stars to headline their productions, there always is a concern of whether or not the star can handle the rigors of performing eight times a week (something the producers of Orphans unfortunately discovered last year after they cast — and later fired — Shia LaBeouf). When it comes to a musical that concern is even greater — not only does that star need to be able to sing and dance, but be able to do it on a daily basis.
As a result, Michelle Williams certainly didn’t seem like a shoe-in when she was announced as playing Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret, especially since this production is a revival of Roundabout Theater Company’s 1998 Best Revival Tony Award-winning production that starred Natasha Richardson, who won a Best Actress Tony for the role. While Williams is a popular, acclaimed actress, she is a Broadway rookie who lacks musical theater experience. On top of that, she wasn’t even the first choice for the role — Emma Stone was previously locked in before dropping out. In a profile in The New York Times, Williams speaks about her nervousness regarding her Broadway debut and why she became so committed to doing something that scared her.
To add to the intimidation factor, Williams is surrounded by Cabaret veterans. The current revival is directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, who both also directed the 1998 Broadway revival, and features the return of Alan Cumming as the Emcee (which was also a Tony Award-winning performance). Because of her lack of experience and that she would be working with those so familiar with the material, Williams wasn’t surprised when she ended up having to audition to play Sally. She explains, “They didn’t call it an audition. But that’s what it was, and I’m fine with that.”
While she landed the role, Williams is still apprehensive about the results. She admits, “I’ve realized something about myself. When I said I wanted to do this, not a few people in my life said: ‘Are you sure? Aren’t you going to be terrified?’ I’m not good at thinking things through. I get excited about something, and that outweighs everything else. I don’t really carry the vision down the line to see the possibilities of how it might turn out.” However, she jokingly adds, “I think that for my work that’s actually been an O.K. trait. For life, not so good.”
Nonetheless, despite the intensity and uncertainty, Williams enjoys the way she feels when performing in a musical. She explains, “It wasn’t that I felt like I had a natural gift. What I liked is that you can’t be in your head. You can’t sing and dance and think at the same time, and so there’s a joy to it. I don’t have enough joy in my life. Who does? And whenever I can get more of it, that’s where I want to go. I want more of that feeling.”