Lillias White

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

THE COMPANY in a scene from the Broadway revival starring Matthew Broderick. [Brotherhood of man – Lillias White and company ]
(Photo: Joan Marcus)


Lillias White in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1995).

“Brotherhood of Man” – H2$ – Tony Awards

The Lif

Cy Coleman’s musical The Life.

In The Life, Coleman, Ira Gasman, and David Newman musicalize the lives of 1980s Times Square prostitutes, including Queen, who is hoping to escape; the cynical Sonja, played by White; and their menacing pimp, Memphis. The production premiered Off-Broadway in 1990 and later opened on Broadway April 26, 1997, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It ran for 446 performances and 21 previews, closing on June 7, 1998.


The Life


For her role in Cy Coleman’s The Life, she won the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her portrayal of a world-weary, no-nonsense, streetwise hooker named Sonja.                                                      Chuck Cooper and Lillias White 

Judine Richard, Vernel Bagneris, Lillias White, and Katy Grenfell Carol Rosegg



Lillias White and Kevin Mambo in “FELA!


For her role in Cy Coleman’s The Life, she won the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her portrayal of a world-weary, no-nonsense, streetwise hooker named Sonja. Off-Broadway White has performed in the Public Theater production of the William Finn musical Romance in Hard Times (1989), for which she won the Obie Award,


Gem of The Ocean

Anthony J. Haney, Lillias White, Clinton Derricks-Carroll, Keith Arthur Bolden, and Pamela Shaddock in “Gem of the Ocean

Lillias White as Aunt Ester and Anthony J. Haney as Solly Two Kings in Rubicon Theatre’s Gem of the Ocean.
David Bazemore



Lillias White during Blair Underwood Stars in Encore’s production of “Purlie” on Broadway – March 30, 2005, at City Center in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Anika Noni Rose and Lillias White during Blair Underwood stars in Encore’s production of “Purlie” on Broadway – March 30, 2005, at City Center in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)

Romance in Hard Times 

Romance in Hard Times is a musical by William Finn. It ran Off-Broadway in 1989 at the Public Theater.

The musical was part of the 1989 and 1990 Public Theater New York Shakespeare Festival in New York City. Romance in Hard Times was presented in one of Joseph Papp‘s “musical laboratories” at the Public Theater’s Anspacher Theater for three weeks in June 1989. Directed by David Warren, the cast featured Lillias White. It was open to the public but not for critics.

The musical then opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on November 14, 1989, and closed on December 17, 1989. The musical was again directed by David Warren with musical direction by Ted Sperling and choreography by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. The cast featured Lillias White, Cleavant Derricks, Victor Trent Cook, Rufus Bonds, Jr., James Stovall, and Alix Korey. White won the Obie Award, for Performance, in 1990.


Lillias White as Dinah Washington in Dinah Was at the Gramercy Theatre. Photo by Photo by Carol Rosegg. 
I thoroughly enjoyed catching Lillias White this past weekend in the Off-Broadway production Dinah Was. White recently replaced Yvette Freeman, who originated the role of R&B/blues singer Dinah Washington in the musical at the newly-renovated Gramercy Theatre. White, who won the 1997 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her work in The Life, brings her thrilling voice and superb comic timing to the demanding role. Although she was still growing into the part at the performance I attended, her singing of “What a Difference a Day Makes,” “I Wanna Be Loved,” “I Won’t Cry Anymore,” “This Bitter Earth” and other Washington tunes were exemplary. And the second-act pairing of Washington with waitress/singer Violet remains a highlight of the show, as the two performers let their voices soar in “A Rockin’ Good Way.”
Included in the press kit for White was a wonderful interview with the actress that ran in Show Music Magazine during her run in Cy Coleman’s The Life. Written by Gregory Angelo, the article profiled White’s theatrical career, and I thought you would enjoy some of her candid comments about the many musicals in which she has starred:
“Barnum was my first Broadway show, and Terri White literally took me by the hand and showed me every nook and cranny of the theatre, introduced me to all the stagehands, took me to her favorite hangout, and just had everybody meet me and she said, ‘Take care of her, she’s new on the block,’ and I never forgot that.” Once On This Island:
“I remember doing that show and thinking how big a blessing it was to be able to hear Milton Craig Neely boom out that song ‘Rain’ every night. It just was so exciting to me, a very moving show to me.”
How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying:
“Des McAnuff was very tight with his directing. We were not allowed to be too creative in what we did. .[but I was allowed to] do a different scat every time [in “Brotherhood of Man”], and I loved doing that. I try to make the best out of any situation, and that’s what I did with How to Succeed… There were people weeping in the audience during [‘Brotherhood of Man’], and this is that kind of upbeat song you wouldn’t think people would get emotional [about]. But people would come to me after and say, ‘I was crying, and I couldn’t figure out why!’ And I’d laugh because I had done my job. I’ve moved you, I’ve gotten you. Anything that can move you like that — that is true art.”
“I think I was miscast, and I wasn’t allowed to be creative. I am very flexible but I like to be creative, and I was totally stifled as Grizabella. . .I just didn’t enjoy it. All that makeup — nobody knows who the hell you are — you don’t get any kind of billing as far as the Playbill or the marquee; nobody knows you are — just a cat! [laughter] . . .I’ve seen people who have done really well working for Cats four, five, six, ten years. I only had a six-month contract and that’s all I wanted to do. I was totally not happy there and it’s not good for me not to care. I did not give a damn about a cat after that. In fact, I had a cat in my house and I gave it away.”
The Life:
“[Cy Coleman]’s an angel. He’s so easy to work with because he recognizes the talent and the creativity in the people that are picked to do his work… He knows that if you let the artist go, they’re only going to enhance what he’s already done, what is already written. Cy works out of a place of love, and that’s where creativity starts, to me. He’s totally open to the creative process, and I live for that… It’s the biggest honor of my career because I created this role. [Sonja’s] not like anybody I really know, except maybe influences in myself — this funny, sarcastic, self-sacrificing part.”

Dinah Was (1998) at the Gramercy Theatre as singer Dinah Washington

Gotta Dance


(Formerly “GOTTA DANCE“)

Here is the story:
From the director/choreographer of Kinky Boots comes the incredible true story of ten ordinary seniors with extraordinary dreams who audition to dance at half time for a major basketball team. Only after making the cut do they learn they won’t be dancing tap, salsa, or swing—instead, they will bring down the house with a style that is entirely new to them: hip hop.
Take the uplifting journey with these dreamers—and the young coaches who inspire them along the way—as they battle self-doubt, stereotypes, and even each other for a chance to bust a move at center court in front of 20,000 screaming fans. Together they remind us that in life when the odds are stacked against you and the challenges seem too great to overcome, it’s not the end of the game—it’s HALF TIME.

Highlights From High Energy Gotta Dance

Georgia Engel and Lillias White

(Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 


Center Theatre Group’s production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in September 2016.

BY August Wilson

DIRECTED BY Phylicia Rashad

 Greg Bryan, Keith David, Jason Dirden, Damon Gupton, Matthew Henerson, Nija Okoro, Lamar Richardson Ed Swidey, Glynn Turman, Lillias White, Thomas Silcott

Photos by Craig Swartz

Lillias White in August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” directed by Phylicia Rashad, playing through October 16, 2016, at Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center.        Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Jason Dirden, Glynn Turman, Damon Gupton, Keith David, and Lillias White

Glynn Turman, Lillias White, and Keith David

Second Stage Theatre’s Crowns (2002), for which she won the AUDELCO Award. In 2014, White will appear in the Primary Stages’ production of While I Yet Live.

White’s concert performances include Funny Girl, Hair, Dreamgirls, and South Pacific, which PBS Great Performances broadcasted. She performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic in a concert of works by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and George and Ira Gershwin celebrating the orchestra’s 50th anniversary. She also has appeared in concert at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center and has toured internationally with her one-woman show From Brooklyn to Broadway. She is heard on the 1990 Madonna recording “Rescue Me”.[citation needed]

White’s television appearances include a regular role on Sesame Street (for which she won an Emmy Award), Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and NYPD Blue.


Her screen credits include voiceover work in Disney’s Hercules and Anastasia and appearances in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Game 6, Pieces of April and Then She Found Me

The Get Down
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, June 2016

The Get Down, One by One, Into the Dark
People: Lillias White, Shameik Moore
Photo by Courtesy of Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix

Pieces of April (2003) 


Katie Holmes as April Burns and Lillias White as Evette

Lillias White as Evette and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Eugene



Lillias White performs during the amfAR world AIDS day event at Washington Square Park on December 1, 2009, in New York City; Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America

December 13, 2019, The Green Room 42, New York City

BWW Review: A LILLIAS WHITE CHRISTMAS Brings Soul, Scatt, and Christmas Spirit to The Green Room 42.
by Bobby Patrick Dec. 14, 2019    


An Evening with Lillias White.
White takes to the stage at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s on Friday night for the first of four local concerts. [2020] – Photo of Lillias White courtesy of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The WIZ – Annie Joe Edwards as Evilene. {Bus & Truck tour of the Broadway musical “The Wiz.” (Wilmington)} — with Lillias White and Annie Joe Edwards.