Learn more about Vanessa Williams before seeing her in 'The Devil Wears Prada'

The much-anticipated musical version of iconic movie The Devil Wears Prada, featuring a score by Elton John, comes to London's Dominion Theatre this October.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Gird your loins! The one and only Vanessa Williams is strutting into the West End this autumn. She will star as Runway magazine editor Miranda Priestly in the stage musical version of the iconic movie The Devil Wears Prada – and will no doubt look fabulous while she does it. After all, a million girls would kill for this job.

The exciting new production, based on the film starring Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt, features a score by pop icon and Olivier and Tony winner Elton John, plus lyrics by Shaina Taub and a book by Kate Wetherhead. Three-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell is directing and choreographing the show at the Dominion Theatre.

Williams is no stranger to the (fictional) magazine world, having played the scheming Wilhelmina Slater on TV comedy Ugly Betty. She’s also a stage veteran who has performed in musicals like Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Wood.

Read all about Vanessa Williams’s extensive career on stage and screen ahead of planning your trip to The Devil Wears Prada. Just try not to move at a glacial pace – and don’t you dare wear that lumpy blue sweater…

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Vanessa Williams’s beginnings

Williams was born in 1963 in Tarrytown, a village in the state of New York, and she was clearly destined for greatness. In the announcement for the local paper, her parents wrote “Here she is: Miss America.” Those parents were both music teachers — so performing was in her blood.

As a girl, Williams studied everything from jazz dance to the piano, violin, and French horn. She won a scholarship to Syracuse University, becoming a musical theatre major, although she didn’t complete her degree because a little beauty pageant got in the way…

That would be the Miss America pageant, with Williams fulfilling her birth announcement when she was crowned the winner in 1983. She made history as the first African-American Miss America, but her reign was cruelly cut short by scandal when Penthouse magazine published unauthorised nude pictures of her.

Vanessa Williams in music

Williams’s musical talents had propelled her to win Miss America, and she returned to music after the scandal. In 1988 she released The Right Stuff, her debut album, and she had chart success with singles “The Right Stuff,” “He’s Got the Look” and, in particular, “Dreamin’.” She was nominated for three Grammy Awards.

She had even more success with second album The Comfort Zone in 1991, and hit number one with single “Save the Best for Last.” The latter was a global hit as well, charting in Australia, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Japan, while the album has been certified triple platinum.

Williams experimented with different musical styles on third album The Sweetest Days, in 1994, including hip-hop, Latin, jazz, and rock. It was a critical and commercial hit, and she received another two Grammy nominations.

More recently, Williams has produced a couple of Christmas albums and a greatest-hits compilation. She was in the charts again with her version of “Colors of the Wind,” which played over the end credits of the 1995 Disney movie Pocahantas.

Ugly Betty Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams on screen

Williams made her screen debut in 1984 in an episode of TV series The Love Boat. She continued to make appearances – both cameo roles, as herself, and guest spots – in TV shows such as TJ Hooker, Password Plus, Soul Train, Saturday Night Live, and Family Feud.

In 1992, Williams played Suzanne de Passe in the biographical miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream, and in 1995 she starred as Rosie Alvarez in a TV movie version of stage musical Bye Bye Birdie. In 1999, she had a recurring role in medical drama LA Doctors, and in 2002 she appeared in the kooky legal series Ally McBeal.

But it wasn’t until 2006 that Williams landed a really juicy TV role in Ugly Betty, which starred America Ferrera as Betty Suarez – a fish out of water at the snotty fashion magazine Mode. Williams played the deliciously villainous Wilhelmina Slater, who constantly judges Betty and plots to take over the publishing empire. The popular show ran for four seasons, and Williams was nominated for two Emmy Awards.

In 2010, Williams joined the cast of the hit drama Desperate Housewives. She played Renee Perry, a spoiled, wealthy woman who moves to the neighbourhood and initially rubs everyone up the wrong way – but eventually makes friends with the other women. She’s also sexually voracious, adding a fun spark that was lost from the show when Nicollette Sheridan (Edie Britt) left.

Williams led the short-lived supernatural drama 666 Park Avenue in 2012, and had a recurring role on legal drama The Good Wife from 2015, as CEO and political donor Courtney Paige. She also starred in the fantasy series The Librarians from 2016.

Williams continued to guest star, too, racking up credits like Modern Family, Broad City, The Mindy Project, Difficult People, and Girls5eva. From 2021, she was a judge on drag queen singing competition Queen of the Universe.

Up on the big screen, Williams made her first film appearance in the 1987 romcom The Pick-up Artist. She graduated to a leading role opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1996 action film Eraser, playing a whistleblower in need of protection, and was part of the African-American ensemble cast of 1997 comedy Soul Food.

Williams got to strut her stuff in the 1998 romantic movie Dance with Me, starring opposite the singer Chayanne, and she played a police negotiator in the 1999 drama Light It Up. There was more action in the 2000 thriller Shaft, starring Samuel L Jackson.

Williams continued to mix it up, including a foray into family movies with 2009’s Hannah Montana. Most recently, she appeared in 2019 drama Miss Virginia and 2020 satirical horror movie Black Hair.

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Vanessa Williams on stage

In 1985, Williams earned her first professional stage credit with musical One Man Band at the Off-Broadway South Street Theatre. She followed that up in 1988 with the play Checkmates.

One of Williams’s best-known stage roles came in 1994, when she was invited to take over the role of Aurora (originally played by Chita Rivera) in John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Terrence McNally’s Broadway musical Kiss of the Spider Woman. The show is about two persecuted men sharing a prison cell, with one constantly fantasising about a movie star called Aurora.

Williams followed that up with another acclaimed performance: The Witch in Sondheim’s Into the Woods, in the 2002 Broadway revival – which also featured Laura Benanti as Cinderella. Williams received a Tony Award nomination for her work.

In 2004, Williams performed her concert Silver & Gold, and she returned to musicals with the Broadway revue Sondheim on Sondheim in 2010. Three years later, she starred alongside Cicely Tyson and Cuba Gooding Jr in a Broadway revival of the play The Trip to Bountiful.

In 2014, Williams played Julie in a semi-staged production of Show Boat accompanied by the New York Philharmonic, and starred as Cora Hoover Hooper in a concert version of Anyone Can Whistle at Carnegie Hall in 2022. That year she also played Margaret in the satirical play POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.

Williams was due to make her West End debut in City of Angels in 2020 when the pandemic struck. Happily, London audiences who missed out on that will instead be treated to her demanding editor Miranda Priestly in musical The Devil Wears Prada, which begins this October at the Dominion Theatre. That’s all!

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