Cleopatra Williams: Talent, Power, and Influence

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Cleopatra Williams headshot courtesy of Denise Grant at cleopatrawilliams.com

More than 2000 years ago, Cleopatra VII Philopator was the most powerful person in ancient Egypt as she ruled the land. Then, in the early 1960s, Hollywood honored her life by producing a big-budget film entitled Cleopatra – starring Elizabeth Taylor – which became the highest-grossing movie of 1963.  And while Cleopatra Williams may not be a historian, she appreciates the significance of her first name and its connection to power and influence dating back to ancient Egypt.

“When I was born my mother wanted to give me a powerful name because she believed I would be a star, and that I would be able to make an impact,” said Williams.

Toronto born and raised, Williams is a talented and powerful vocalist with an impressive list of accomplishments to her name. She’s enjoyed notable roles on some of the biggest live shows in Canada such as We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys, and Kinky Boots. She has also been nominated for two Broadway World Awards.

And as one of Canada’s leading performers, Williams takes pride in being able to positively impact and inspire others through her talents and her journey to success.

Cleopatra Williams Making a Powerful Impact and Inspiring Others through her Talents

In The Blood

Cleopatra Williams is quick to acknowledge that the talent to entertain others was in her DNA.

“My father, John, was a DJ and started his own DJ company. My mother, Anastasia, loved music and dance – and in fact, she wanted to be a professional dancer. So I guess you can say performing in front of others was in my blood,” said Williams.

As soon as she could walk her mother enrolled her in dance class.

 

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“My mother didn’t start taking actual dance classes until she was 19 or 20, so she wanted me to have the earliest start possible,” she noted.

Williams was just four years old when she first performed a dance recital in front of others on stage and she knew right away it was her calling.

“It has always felt like it was home and that’s where I was supposed to be. I didn’t feel scared or nervous, even at a young age.. It was just natural,” said Williams.

Young Cleopatra grew up honing her dance skills at the Roland & Romaine School of Dance in Toronto.

“I learned various genres of dance such as jazz, tap, hip hop, ballet, and ballroom. I really enjoyed learning as much as possible and getting better,” recalled the talented Canadian performer.

A Passion for Dance and Musical Theatre

By the age of 12 Cleopatra William’s dance skills were so advanced that she was asked to teach other students at the dance school.

“The teachers told me I excelled at dance and thought I would do a good job in teaching some of the younger students,” she noted.

Besides refining her skills in dance, Williams also developed a strong passion for musical theatre during her time at Roland & Romaine.

“My grandfather was a fan of musical theatre and live shows and during my time at the dance school, I also developed a strong passion for musical theatre.”

An interesting tidbit about her grandfather is that he was best friends with the father of famous Canadian actor and comedian Mike Myers. The former Austin Powers star was also an alumni of Toronto based dance school attended by Williams.

After graduating from East York Collegiate High School, Williams decided to pursue a career in musical theatre and auditioned for the Randolph Academy of Performing Arts as a bright eyed teenager.

“I auditioned when I was 18. I had never sang before in an audition so it was quite terrifying,” Williams recalled with a laugh.

“I also had to learn a dance routine, perform the routine in front of the admissions team and I had to prepare a monologue and perform the monologue in front of all them as well.”

Williams recalls the schedule at the private performing arts college was quite intense.

“When I was a student there, it was three years condensed into two years. There were six terms and in between each year there was a month break. So it was pretty intense and schedule,” she pointed out.

“It was at the Randolph Academy that my singing started to get a bit stronger and I realized I a had a strong voice,” added the now highly respected Canadian vocalist.

Cleopatra Williams Pursuing the Dream

Cleopatra Williams fondly recalls landing her first show out of school. “My very first musical I did out of school was Grease and it was shown at a venue called the Atlantis Theatre at Ontario Place,” she revealed.

“I was on cloud nine and living the dream,” said Williams, who earned a spot being in the chorus and understudying three key main characters: Rizzo, Marty, and Cha-Cha.

Being an understudy meant that Williams didn’t have a principal role but she would play one of them if one of the actors couldn’t make it to the performance. It was William’s first musical, so she was not a part of the theatre union equity yet nor was this a union show, and thus, there were no scheduled rehearsals to learn her understudy roles.

“I basically had to learn all three roles by watching them during the live performance out of the corner of my eye whenever possible……So when you have to go on you’re basically being shot out of a canon.”

While she was happy with scoring that role on Grease as her first gig out of college, Williams had visions of performing on the biggest stage in Canada.

That meant landing a role with Mirvish Productions – the company that helped Toronto become one of the most important theatrical centres in the world behind Broadway and London.

Williams’ journey towards fulfilling this dream required hard work, dedication and perseverance.

“Some students were able to book big shows and big jobs right out of school but that wasn’t the case for me. I found it challenging to get an agent and to get that first big break,” she said.

Everything didn’t fall into place right away. It took her eight years after graduating from theatre school to earn her first big breakthrough.

“No one really knows the struggle and what you had to go through to get that first breakthrough. I was rejected so many times prior to landing my first Mirvish show,” said Williams candidly.

“It got to the point where I was going to so many auditions and kept hearing ‘Thank you. Don’t call us, we’ll call you’ so to speak and not hear anything. That’s what I would come to expect, constantly,” she continued.

“It was what I did. I went to auditions, made it to the final call back and then I wouldn’t book anything.”

 

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According to her long time friend, Crystal Stokes, there is no quit in Williams.

“As a freelance performer she never ceases to amaze me. She is very dedicated, hard working and doesn’t quit. Even when she was told to quit, she still continued and never gave up,” Stokes noted.

And Williams’ perseverance would pay off in 2008 when she landed a role on the Mirvish Production of We Will Rock You.

“I had auditioned for it a year prior, but didn’t get in,” she recalled.

However, the production would hold another round of auditions. And while it was difficult to score an audition, Williams managed to secure one.

“After finally making my way to the end of the call, that night i was told I didn’t book the show. Then a miracle happened and two weeks later I got the call that I actually did,” Williams pointed out.

“I was numb and in shock.I remember calling my mother to tell her and she started crying because she knew how badly I wanted it. That was quite an emotional moment.”

Notable Highlights

That initial breakthrough would open the doors to other notable assignments for the talented Toronto performer.

Williams says another highlight was landing a role on Kinky Boots.

“It was a wonderful experience as we got to work with the associate director D.B. Bonds and choreographer Rusty Mowery from the Kinky Boots production on Broadway,” she said. “It was such a blessing to be part of a show that is so well done and that everyone loves.”

Williams says one of her most challenging roles was playing Anita in Vancouver Opera’s production of West Side Story.  Williams proved that she was a true triple threat as embodying the role of Anita required her to excel with her dancing, singing and acting.

“You have to be extremely strong in your dance technique to pull off Jerome Robbins’ original choreography. You have to have the singing chops to belt out Leonard Bernstein’s challenging vocal score. You have to have the acting range to be able to have the comedic timing the role calls for and also be able to go to a darker place with in to pull off the attempted rape that she experiences in the final scene,” said Williams about embodying the role of Anita.

 

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“It was one of my most challenging roles and also the most rewarding of my career.”

Williams’ portrayal of Anita in West Side Story garnered strong reviews from critics including the Globe and Mail which referred to her as a powerhouse.

The talented and respected entertainer has also been recognized with two Broadway World award nominations for her performances in Ross Petty’s Beauty and the Beast and for Mirvish’s production of Wizard of Oz as the understudy for the Wicked Witch.

“It was nice to be nominated and get that acknowledgement and recognition.”

Cleopatra Williams Sharing the Stage with Justin Bieber

When she’s not performing on the big stage, she’s entertaining audiences with live musical performances for private events.

Williams recalls a cool experience happened when a band she played in performed at a high profile wedding.

“It was Justin Bieber‘s guitarist’s wedding and while we were playing, Justin came on stage with our band and we performed Baby. That was a really cool experience to share the stage with Justin,” she pointed out.

Despite all her accomplishments and success, Crystal Stokes says her long time friend has remained firmly grounded over the years.

“What impresses me about Cleo as a person is her love for people and her desire to want to help everyone around her. She never wants to keep things to herself and always wants to share with others…..She’s so down to Earth,” said Stokes.

“Sometimes this industry can be very difficult, and she has been able to work through it, be successful and that in its own, is inspiring,” she added.

Keeping Positive During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The positive attitude that helped Williams overcome adversity and rejection on her journey to success in the entertainment industry, has served her well in dealing with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

During the initial lock down live in person shows were cancelled and restrictions were kept in place in Toronto until the summer.

Williams says she’s made the best of the situation and used the time to recharge and refocus. During the time off stage and away from performing live events, Williams spent some time recording music.

“I’ve always had a love for house music and dance music and during the pandemic I’ve had a chance to work with some producers.”

She’s also found creative ways to continue to share her musical talents with audiences.

“Now with the second wave, I guess we have all adapted a little to the pandemic and I’ve been doing shows through Zoom and also have done some curbside concerts outdoors,” she pointed out.

“It’s great to be able to entertain others and bring joy to them and brighten up their days during this challenging time.”

Powerful and Influential Words of Wisdom

With 2020 coming to a conclusion, Cleopatra Williams looks ahead to 2021 with cautious optimism.

Besides being hopeful of being able to perform on the big stage in front of large audiences again, Williams plans to dedicate time in the new year to recording music and pursuing her interest in film and television

“Hopefully things will return back to normal in 2021. I’m optimistic and expect it to be a busy year,” she said.

Having accomplished so much in her career, Williams was asked what her advice would be for young up and coming artists looking to follow in her footsteps and make their own unique impact within the industry – and beyond.

“Believe in yourself. You are talented and you can make anything happen that you put your mind and energy into,” she replied.

“You are here to make an impact and inspire people – so don’t doubt yourself. Just work hard, stay positive and keep going.”

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