JOHNSON CITY, TN – The musical Jersey Boys became an overnight hit on Broadway in 2005 and remains one of the top-selling shows on the Great White Way. Three years later, these contagious tunes spread to London's West End – the equivalent of Broadway – where Jersey Boys continues to mirror its New York success.
The production is a musical illustration of dreams being realized, telling the story of how Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons went from being unknown New Jersey kids to international pop superstars.
As audience members are serenaded by popular tunes like "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "Sherry," another dream is being realized by a young lady working on the stage management crew.
East Tennessee State University graduate and Knoxville native Tabatha Williams has made it to the West End.
"I began acting when I was 10, but there weren't many opportunities when I was that age to work backstage," Williams said. "When I came to ETSU, our professors encouraged us to learn other aspects of theater in addition to the performance side."
After appearing onstage in such productions as The Crucible and Oedipus Rex, she was asked to stage-manage ETSU's production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Williams said that is when she "knew."
"I realized at that point that stage management best suited me and it was the direction I wanted my career to take," she said. "Being an ideal stage manager requires you to be an effective communicator, calm under pressure, well-organized, good at multitasking, caring, and knowledgeable about the departments involved in creating a production."
And definitely having a sense of humor, she adds.
While a college student, she participated in an exchange program and spent a semester in Amsterdam, describing this time as "one of the greatest experiences in my life."
During a weekend trip to England, she visited Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, and took in a production at The Royal Shakespeare Company.
"It was the most amazing production I had ever seen, and the quality of the production was wonderful," Williams said. "That was when I decided I wanted to move to England and work in a country that had theaters in every town."
In May 2005, she graduated from ETSU with a degree in theater and minor in philosophy. By autumn, London had become her home.
And like many newcomers to the professional theater scene, finding work those first few months was a challenge, especially for someone whose résumé involved work done at theaters unknown to those making the hiring decisions.
But it was the Kali Theatre Company who "took a chance on a little lady from Tennessee," Williams says, and hired her as an assistant stage manager for an upcoming production. Initially, her assignment was for the rehearsal process only, but her efforts were noticed by a cast member who advocated she be hired for the London production and for a national tour.
And she was – and at the Equity rate, which enforces fair rates of pay and working conditions for theatre professionals.
"In this business, you get work by doing work, so I was then off and running. I did several more productions and a few tours, which allowed me to see the English countryside."
Between shows, she worked at a drama school as a support tutor for stage management students and later accepted a similar position at London's Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, where she has been the past four years.
An "opportunity of a lifetime," Williams says, came when she was asked to be on the stage management team of the Laurence Olivier Awards ceremony, held at the Drury Lane Theatre in Covent Garden.
"I jumped at the chance."
After the awards, she was asked by a producer and a friend to help stage-manage the West End production of Jersey Boys. This past April, she became part of the team.
"ETSU gave me the quality training I needed to be a successful professional in what is a very competitive industry," she said. "It was an excellent learning environment with fantastic professionals who care about students and give individual attention. The ETSU theater facilities are exceptional, and I loved the Amphitheatre."
From her backstage booth at Jersey Boys Williams offers some advice to aspiring theater professionals.
"The saying that "if you work hard enough, you can make it in this industry' has proven true for me," she said. "Whether you are a performer, writer, technician, or director, stay positive.
"If you find yourself sleeping on the floor and eating crackers for dinner, it may not be forever. If you believe in yourself, you can make it happen. Break a leg!"