No wonder they grabbed this lady right out of college for the original cast of Ain't Misbehavin'. She's got heat--that blaze in the gut that lights up everything within a five block radius. And she's not shy about putting it out there and sharing it, which is what she's doing on June 14, 15, 16, and 18 (no performance on the 17th) at the Skirball Cultural Center with her solo show Neat, part of L.A. Theater Works' "The Play's The Thing" live radio theater series.
Neat played the Mark Taper Forum a while back and garnered Woodard more of the rave reviews that have characterized her career. She started out in Albany, NY. After school, she and a group of friends, including actor Robert Townsend, headed to Broadway to turn the theater world on its ear. Within a year, Woodard was filling her nights racing around the stage in Tom O'Horgan's Broadway revival of Hair and her days rehearsing the film version Uptown and in Central Park under the guidance of director Milos Forman, and choreographer Twyla Tharp. Before the film was completed, Hollywood called, so she used her infectious charm and managed to get an early release."Milos was great," Woodard recalls. "He said, go! So I went. As a result, I was only in the "White Boys" number in Hair, but I got to work with him and Twyla. Wow!" Woodard headed west to star in Cindy on television, but she dashed right back to Broadway when she was cast in the original Ain't Misbehavin'. Her performance in that production earned her a Tony nomination.
"I learned a lot from that show," she says, "working with those great people: Nell Carter, Andre De Shields, Armelia McQueen, and Ken Page. They let me, know. 'Honey,' they said, 'when our kind of people do this kind of material, we can't just come out and sing, we gotta come out and SING!' " With that, she gives me eight bars of "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" with the sort of authentic Gospel inflection that lets you know what SINGING really means.
Woodard stayed with the hit Fats Waller revue for over a year on Broadway, in San Francisco, and finally in Los Angeles. Then she rushed back to New York for more hustle, more auditions, and more work: another revue with Maltby (Hang On to The Good Times), singing and acting for George C. Wolfe at Playwrights Horizons (Paradise), doing Twelfth Night and Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Shakespeare Festival for Joe Papp. And on and on. But, she says, "Doing the eight-a-week grind was getting exhausting. It left no time for being creative. And that's what artists have to do. Create!"
So Woodard took stock of her life and her career. She considered her earliest experiences growing up, which she would later dramatize in Pretty Fire (created in Los Angeles in 1992). She relived life as a teen who basked in the warmth of her mama's woman-child sister, Aunt Neat, an experience she would bring to life in Neat (created in Seattle in 1997, and now set to be taped for posterity here in L.A.). Finally, she came to terms with her dreams of making a name for herself in the theater, which will be chronicled in her mono-drama In Real Life at the Mark Taper Forum in 2001. The outcome? Woodard decided it was time to move to Los Angeles "to rest."