With Whitney Houston as his muse, Greg Williams Jr. knew he would have to be choosey in his selection of dancers.
“And this is a theatrical production presented through dance,” Williams says. “So, I needed dancers who could project the feeling of Whitney’s songs on stage.”
- Technique is nice, but Houston was about love.
- HE SELECTED 23 DANCERS WHO COULD TELL THE STORIES OF HOUSTON’S SONGS FOR New Venture Theatre’s original production, “Love, Whitney.” The show opens Friday, Nov. 7, in the Manship Theatre and not only will include dancers, but poetry, acrobatics, projections and creative lighting.
“It’s like a Cirque production in that we’re telling stories through these different expressions,” Williams says. “And what I love is how our choreographer, Jeoffery Harris Jr., has tied all of these stories together. The audience doesn’t realize this until the end, but the stories all connect to make one.”
- NOW HERE’S THE IRONY: Williams had never been a big Whitney Houston fan until he began working on this show.
- “I liked Whitney, but I was a big fan of indie music,” he says. “I didn’t listen to popular radio. But then Whitney’s music came available this year for theatrical productions, and I thought we could do something with it.”
Houston died at age 48 on Feb. 11, 2012. She hit the music charts in 1977 and became one of the world’s bestselling artists with 200 million record sales worldwide.
Williams listened to all of Houston’s recordings in preparation for this production.
“I’ve incorporated 15 of her hits into the show — some from her early career,” Williams says. “And I kept a journal while I was listening, writing down what I saw happening.”
That’s when Williams made an interesting discovery. Whitney sang about all facets of love, including romance, heartbreak, first love and love of family.
“She covered everything,” Williams says. “So, that became the title of the show, ‘Love, Whitney.’ And Jeoffery took what I had written in the journal and put it together. His work is amazing.”
Williams’ initial intention was to celebrate Houston’s music, but the show has evolved into a tribute to how she touched lives.
“I don’t see how it can’t be a tribute, because the more people I talk to, the more I realize how Whitney’s music affected their lives,” he says. “I talked to one woman, who told me how Whitney’s music helped her through her divorce. I talked to a cook in one of the restaurants in the Shaw Center yesterday, who told me how Whitney’s music helped him through a tough time. Everyone has as story.”
Which is why Williams needed to be picky with the dancers.
“I have to remind them that they aren’t just dancers but actors,” Williams says. “Dancers are usually in the background in theatrical productions, so they were excited when I told them that my goal was to put them in the forefront of this production, where they are the leads in the spotlight. They are loving it.”
In the end, Williams compiled a collection of hip-hop, ballet and contemporary dancers.
“They’re not only learning about theater, but they’re learning from each other,” Williams says. “And the audience won’t realize until the end that they’re telling our story, because Whitney’s music is everyone’s story.”
- CAST: Alexus Maiden, Alexus Williams, Allison Singleton, Aniyah Demoulin, Ashleigh Everson, Azha Alston, Brandon Oliver, Brionia Gougis, Christian Simon, Darren Smith, Darrion Hill, Dawnielle Pollard, Gabriella Bourgeois, Jason Burden, Kaitlyn Marie Kelly, Kelby McClinton, Ketreon Butler, Lauren Brumfield, Le’Tiger Walker, Milan Davis, Nevaeh Robertson, Sierra Victorian, Tra Alston.
- ARTISTIC STAFF: Greg Williams Jr. — director and concept; Jeoffery Harris Jr., choreographer; Christopher Daniel, stage manager and media design; Leslie Rose, poetry author; Melissa Seidule, costume design.