Chicago Native Michelle Williams in Fela!

February 21, 2013 | by —Elle Eichinger; interview conducted by Meg Mathis
Photography by Carol Rosegg (Fela!); Derek Blanks (headshot) | Homepage

Fresh off a show-stopping Super Bowl performance—where she reunited with Destiny’s Child for the halftime act—Michelle Williams is on stage again, this time in her Chicago hometown at Arie Crown Theater. The singer-actress plays the role of Sandra Isadore in Fela!, a world-tour musical showing in Chicago February 20-23. The Tony Award-winning play produced by hip-hop legends Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will Smith, tells the inspirational story of Fela Kuti, an African musician and political activist. For tickets ($20-70) visit felaonbroadway.com. 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr., 312-791-6320

What attracted you to this production, and how is it different than performing onstage with Destiny’s Child?
MICHELLE WILLIAMS: I have been studying the musical Fela! for the last five years, not even knowing that I would actually be in the show one day. After studying the music, finally being asked to do the show was amazing. The audience is different than at a concert venue. It’s just a little more contained; the theater is more laid back. The fact that now I’m in a musical that allows me to sing—I’m able to [perform in both scenarios]. 

What message do you hope Chicagoans get from seeing the show?
MW: To always fight for something and believe in something. You know, to always take a stand for what you believe. I play the role of Sandra Isadore, the [love interest] of Fela. [She] helps politicize the music, helps even Africanize Fela more—of course he’s Nigerian—but to really embrace and get in touch with [the music]. Instead of just being angry about what happened to him, he took that anger and [thought] 'I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else.' So he became a human rights activist and a leader.

You also have an album coming out this year—what can you tell us about that?
MW: It’s coming out in the spring or summer. It is an inspirational album [about] the beautiful and the dark times of my life. Just looking back is beautiful; [the past] made me become the woman I am—the woman I’m still growing into. I wouldn’t take any of those situations back.

Are you excited to be back in Chicago? What do you love to do here?
MW: I’m so excited. I can’t wait for my whole family to come see Chicago: I’ve got a big busload of my family coming in. I miss the Chicago summers; just being on the lake, biking around Lake Shore Drive, eating at Tavern on Rush (1301 N. Rush St., 312-664-9600). I [also] love the Original Pancake House (22 E. Bellevue Pl., 312-642-7917)—I went this morning and got my chocolate chip pancakes. I love shopping over there, from Bebe (109 E. Oak St., 312-664-2323) to the new Christian Louboutin store (58 E. Oak St., 312-337-8200).

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