As the one, the only, Sheila Williams prepared to storm the stage with her much anticipated show An Evening with Sheila Williams: How Sensible! she takes a moment to chat with The Herald about her roots and her passion for performing
Sheila Williams can make you chuckle just by winking in your general direction. Yes. She really is that good. It’s not that she’s funny looking; far from it! It doesn’t matter if she’s glammed up as her own self, stuffed to the tilt (we said tilt! Get that mind outta da gutter) like Dolly, wigged-out like Tina or ready to hit the mall as Mavis – Williams is a divine diva no matter what shoes she’s wearing.
On Oct 19 & 20 at Holy Heart in St. John’s Williams will be presenting An Evening with Sheila Williams: How Sensible!
After a lifetime (or what feels like one)spent with Spirit of Newfoundland, it’s about time she was let out on her own, she jokes. Though she’s not really alone; she is taking some friends along for the ride.
“I will be doing stand up comedy and I will mix it in with music. There’s no storyline as such, it’s a full production concert. I’ll have special guests like the amazing Shelley Neville and Darrin Martin, who is a star. Dana Parsons too, who is my sister really in my heart and she is brilliant and Larry Foley who is with the 8 Track Favourites. He’s pretty good too (laughter) and of course me. I have to be there because, well, it’s my show.”
The laughter has begun. Where in the world did she get her (at times) saucy but always gut-busting wit?
“It comes from mom. Rosemary Williams she was, and this show is actually a tribute to her and her comedy will be highlighted. She was funny. We used to say about mom; if you had a hole she could plug it. In other words, if you had a problem she could fix it. Mom always had an answer for everything and that’s where I get my quick response-styled humour from. I grew up listening to mom come back at everything and I come back all the time.”
Williams jokes that it’s both a blessing and a curse; she always seems to need to get the last word in – and usually what she says makes sense and is funny. But besides getting laughs, she always wants the show to feel natural and unscripted; and often it is!
“My task every night is to look like I’m making it up as I go, and sometimes I do! My own personal challenge is to make the people that I work with every night laugh too and mess them up,” she says with an (almost) evil grin.
On friend and stage-mate Shelley Neville; “She’s straight and I’m the one who gets the gag and there’s nothing more fun. Now, she knows I have no ill intent at all, I’m highlighting her – only it’s in a way that’s going to get me a laugh while still showing her off. But Shelley, the laugh is all mine!”
Williams gets serious for a moment. “We know our talents and that has come with 30 years experience. After working together we know what we are good at and I’m good at comedy and Shelley’s vocals are absolutely extraordinary.”
Now, Williams is no slouch on the vocal front. “My singing talent comes from practice but also from my mom and dad. They sang around the house, and growing up on the farm we sang too. I sang into a shovel or a broom. We sang to the cows.”
What they were singing didn’t matter much. “We always had VOWR on and sometimes we’d sneak on OZFM, always listening for dad though because we’d think; if that gets too loud now he’s gonna switch that over on us and we didn’t want to miss what we were listing to. But we always sang and I practiced harmony with my brothers for the cow’s entertainment.”
While her mother is gone, she did get to see her child perform. “Mom couldn’t have been more proud. Her own duck was the yellowest. The others were fine, but I was always the star. I was always the best duck in the pond.”
As she prepares for her career highlight; her very own show, what does she want potential audience members to know? “ I want people to think; oh my gawd! That sounds like it’s going to be fun, and it will be fun! People from age 30 to 80 – from 20 to near dead really – anyone who likes having a bit of fun is my audience,” she says with a very Williamsish look.
Singing for Her Supper
Her voice is sooooo recognizable. Is she always called out when out and about? Sometimes, yes, she says, sharing a very funny story. She had been out for supper with friends in Dildo. The owner of the restaurant asked her to sing. She sang Coat of Many Colours, then by request, Delta Dawn. The owner asked her to sing just one more… and she said, sure! But my dinner is free! He agreed, and generously added; free for your dinner guests as well.
“So, this man comes up to me at Costco and goes; I’m going to sit with you next time. I said, pardon? He said, I’m going to sit with you next time and I’ll get my meal free! He was in Dildo that night.”
While Williams says she loves being recognized for her distinct voice, there’s a story behind it.
“When I was a baby my mother said when she brought me home from the doctor I was in a body cast because I hooked my leg up on my way out from being born and was all shagged up. Mom used to say, honey, you didn’t want to leave then and you haven’t left my side since.”
When her mother took her back for her first check up the doctor had an interesting warning. “The doctor said; that child is going to have issues with her voice as she grows up because she cries like she has seagulls in her throat, but the seagulls have served me well!”
Good thing, because Williams loves to sing and perform – especially old country classics. “I love that music, that’s the music that I’m most in tune with, it touches me. I know I should be cooler, but it’s dad’s fault. He raised me listening to old country and Jigs & Reels.”
Of all her characters, is there a favourte? “I love Mavis. I love Dolly. But I love Tina (Turner) the best. She is a super star and I love being her.”
‘I can’t wait’
Williams is excited for her show. She has big plans for those in attendance.
“When they leave, please gawd let them be lifted right to the end of the show and may they stand up and say, my gawd it was great! And may their ribs be sore from laughter and their hearts filled from the music, that’s all we want. We want them to enjoy the entire night laughing and crying and hearing all the old music.”
While Spirit of NL has been a delight to her for decades and receiving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Medal in 2012 was also incredible, this show is perhaps the cherry on top. “This is the most challenging and exciting time of my life right now, and I hope people come. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and I can’t wait.”
Show times Oct. 19 and 20. For more visit holyhearttheatre.com