A Sexy and Sophisticated Vanessa Williams Gets Ready for Her Close-Up at 54 Below

New York

Vanessa Williams | Photo: Abeiku Arthur

Dan Meyer
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December 8, 2022 1:00 PM

They say you should never meet your heroes—but that clearly doesn’t apply to Vanessa Williams. The Grammy, Tony, and Emmy nominee is a household name in the industry from Broadway to music to TV thanks to her powerhouse vocals and strong character performances. Now, fans will get to see her in a more personal setting with her mini-residency at 54 Below, playing December 13-18.

The show will celebrate her highs and acknowledge the lows, each song getting an introduction that reflects a moment in her life. “I talk about how songs came to me, what I was doing in my life, how some songs were denied and ended up winning,” she says, alluding to the doubters she’s proved wrong over the years. “I’m one of the lucky ones that when people come to listen to me sing, they’re like, ‘Oh, God, you made me cry!’ And if I can have that superpower, I’m fine.”

The show isn’t about proving anyone wrong, though. “This will be a step back in time,” she says. “For instance, when I sing “Colors of the Wind,” I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh my God, that was my recital song’ or ‘Oh, my God, I had to sing that in my chorus.’ It’s the same thing for another hit of hers, “Save the Best for Last,” which recalls weddings and proms. Together, the audience and the Into the Woods Tony nominee will spend an evening relishing some of the best music from the past few decades.

Williams will perform with the same band she’s been with since 1997 when she was on tour with Luther Vandross. Normally, she plays in symphony halls, Broadway theatres (most recently in POTUS), and concert arenas to thousands of adoring fans. 54 Below, however, maxes out at around 150 people. “It’s a small, sexy, sophisticated room, which I love,” she says. The star plans to sing a combination of her hits, Broadway songs, and R&B—and there are plenty of opportunities for surprises. “I have a lot of friends who are talented and will be in the audience. So I might be able to drag somebody up to do a duet depending on what night it is and who's there,” she teases.

The show itself even has a unique connection to her Broadway experience in Sondheim on Sondheim, inspired by her time with the late Barbara Cook. Watching her do a choreographed show was one thing—but to watch the then-85-year-old do a solo show shortly after the musical closed was another. “We got a chance to see a whole other side of her, telling stories and singing what she wanted to sing.” It was a wonderful juxtaposition seeing someone excel at their craft, and then hearing them in their own words, she says.

Williams will control the show from the set list to the look. She even does her own hair and makeup and picks out her own wardrobe. “People want something to look at that's pleasing and I want to dress up. I love going out wearing something sparkly and exciting!,” she says.

Each night, audiences will get something a little bit different. If she’s feeling sassy, she’ll start with a swing or jazz tune; other times, the show will kick off with an R&B song. “It all depends on my mood and what I feel the vibe is. Maybe one night I’ll say, ‘You know what? Sometimes love ain’t so good. And this is a song about when love wasn’t so good.’ And I go into a song called ‘Who You Thinkin’ About,’ which was about one of my cheating husbands.”

Other songs in her repertoire will fold in Williams’ experience as the co-founder of Black Theatre United. “I got a chance to sing ‘Stormy Weather’ in front of the Lena Horne Theater opening ceremony, which I had previously sung on stage at the [then-named] Brooks Atkinson Theatre in After Midnight, so that was a definite connection where it was meant to be.” It was a full-circle moment for the star, who continues to blend performance and activism into everything she does.

And, of course, this being December, the holiday spirit will be a part of the show, too. That’s unsurprising given Williams’ star turn in A Diva’s Christmas Carol (editor’s note: one of the greatest editions of Dickens’ classic tale to ever hit the screen) and her two Christmas albums. “New York is magical during the holiday season—There’s a vibe there that's just unlike any other place. It's glamorous, the lights are twinkling,” she says.

Every song has a story, a purpose that drives the evening forward in the tale of Vanessa Williams. Whether it’s date night, gals (or boys) night out, or a solo jaunt, Vanessa Williams is primed and ready to deliver her best to all who are waiting at 54 Below.

For reservations and tickets, click here

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Dan Meyer

After 4 years in the biz, Dan swapped out theatre for sports and is now a researcher at NBC Olympics. Spectacle remains a key passion and is dedicated to building bridges between different forms of entertainment. He has worked as a writer and editor at Theatrely and Playbill, covering Broadway and beyond. In addition, he has been published in Rolling Stone, Spy, and others.