Award-winning actress, singer to perform at ‘Night on the Stage’
By Susan Shinn Turner for The Salisbury Post
You may not know Lillias White’s name, but you likely know her face — or her voice.
White, a longtime actor based in Brooklyn, N.Y., currently appears in the Netflix series, “The Get Down,” and has appeared on the television series “Law & Order” and “Gotham.” She won an Emmy for her role in “Sesame Street,” and did voice-over work for the Disney movie “Hercules” and its TV series.
Since the 1980s, she’s appeared on Broadway, with roles in “Cats,” “Carrie,” “Dreamgirls,” “Once This Island,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Chicago” and “Fela!”
She won multiple awards for her portrayal of Sonja, a hooker in Cy Coleman’s “The Life,” which she claims as one of her favorite roles. The combination of the People’s Choice Award, the Outer Critics Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the Tony Award is known as Broadway’s Prestigious Quadruple Crown. Another favorite was the role of Hennie Smith “Romance in Hard Times,” for which she won the Obie Award.
She’s also performed in concerts and cabarets, and she’ll bring her cabaret show to the Meroney Theater next weekend for Piedmont Players Theatre’s “Night on the Stage.”
The annual marquee fundraiser provides operations money for both the Meroney and Norvell theaters. “Night on the Stage” begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, with an opening reception, silent auction, and dinner by Chef Santos, followed by White’s performance. Table sponsorships are still available, along with a limited number of individual tickets at $150 for PPT members and $175 for non-members. The event’s presenting sponsors are Missie and Greg Alcorn and Ed and Susan Norvell. The evening also includes a preview of PPT’s 2017-18 seasons at the Meroney and Norvell theaters.
White has had a lot of good roles over the years, she says. The role of Hennie Smith is a woman who has fallen on hard times during the Depression.
“She’s optimistic about life event in the most dire of times,” White says. “The play is very zany. She gets pregnant and holds back 27 months to a time when the world was not so crazy.”
The Obie Award, she says, was “so unexpected, and a nice surprise.”
In “Chicago,” she shared the stage with Usher, Robin Givens, and John O’Hurley.
“The Get Down” is a series about how hip-hop started in the Bronx — not far from her native Brooklyn.
“I play a pretty rough character,” White says, “but it is a lot of fun.”
She still lives in Brooklyn, in an apartment with a great view of the city. She loves the vibrancy of New York City, she says. White has done cabaret work in New York, Singapore and Los Angeles. Her show is titled, “From Brooklyn to Broadway,” and chronicles the existence of growing up in Brooklyn. Guests can expect to hear selections from “Dreamgirls,” “How to Succeed,” “The Life,” and “Once This Island.”
Many parents may know White as the lady from “Sesame Street.” From 1990 to 1994, White was Lillian Edwards, who ran a daycare center in the neighborhood.
“It was a lot of fun to do,” White recalls. “My daughter was on the show with me, but my son didn’t want to do it!”
During that time, White was recognized by children a lot around New York City. They couldn’t quite figure out how the lady on television was right in front of them, but those were fun moments for White as well.
White also voiced Calliope in “Hercules.”
“What I loved about it was that the animators came and watched us perform, and got an idea of what we looked like and what our expressions looked like,” she says. “It was great to see that on screen. We really felt like our personalities were reflected.”
Perhaps more than any award, White was thrilled to receive an honorary doctorate three years ago from her alma mater, City University of New York. Her degree is in musical theater.
“I was always musical, and, I guess dramatic, as a kid,” she says. “I wanted to be a ballerina, but when I was growing up, there were no black ballerinas, and no classes for people of color.”
But White was selected to do musical things at school, and always entertained at family dinners on Sunday.
“There was always a lot of music going on at my house,” she remembers. She is named for a favorite aunt.
In college, she discovered the theater.
“The rest, as they say, is history,” she says. “The theater kind of grabbed me.”
She became proficient at singing, dancing, and acting — which has allowed her to work steadily all these years without waiting tables or having another day job.
“I’ve been very blessed,” White says.
Salisbury, too, has been fortunate to have Broadway-caliber performers at “Night on the Stage,” thanks to PPT board member Andy Abramson. He has a stepbrother who is an agent in New York City.
“He has been gracious enough to have actors work with us and come to Salisbury for this event,” Abramson says. “It’s a neat thing to bring to Salisbury, and it’s a wonderful way to raise money for the theater.”
He adds, “We’ve had some incredible talent during the last few years. Our ‘Night on the Stage’ alumni are doing well. And when we have actors who have won multiple awards, we know we’re getting the best of the best.”
For more information about “Night on the Stage,” visit www.piedmontplayers.com or call 704-633-5471.