Broadway star Lillias White kicks off a new Thanksgiving tradition in Quincy

Seth Rudetsky and Lillias White
Seth Rudetsky and Lillias White

Had your fill of feasting, football, and Black Friday foraging? Spice up the routine with “Fair Saturday Quincy,” a daylong series of community-boosting musical and art events that benefit charities, culminating in an evening concert starring Tony Award winner Lillias White and commentator-accompanist Seth Rudetsky, host of Sirius Radio’s “Seth Speaks.”

Quincy is the first city in the United States to sign on as an official hub for a movement that started five years ago in Bilbao, Spain, and has since spread to some 15 countries. Local impresario John F. McDonald Jr., who lined up the musical acts, is especially pleased to have secured a fitting venue for the marquee event: United First Parish Church, a.k.a. the “Church of the Presidents,” a grand 1828 Greek Revival edifice frequented by both John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams (both presidents and their spouses are interred there).


“The very cool connection,” says McDonald, “is that in 1780 John Adams passed through Bilbao."

White will share the stage with students from McDonald’s “Rising Stars” workshops, which have helped to guide a number of local aspirants to Broadway. In a phone call a week before the concert, White, a powerhouse singer at 68, described her own path.

Q. Did you know from the time you were a little kid that you had an amazing voice?

A. My thing when I was a little girl was, I wanted to be a ballerina — and at that time they did not have avenues for little black girls to go be ballerinas. I loved singing, but it was always incidental. I sang as a little child on top of my grandmother’s dining room table every Sunday.

Q. Were you singing in churches at all?

A. No, I grew up Catholic. Masses back then were in Latin, and they did not have any girls in the choir, or any altar girls. But my mother would buy me 45s and show-tune albums, and I would sing in my living room, and in little things at school.


Q. Did you study voice or theater? I checked the Lortel Archives [off-Broadway database], and you pop up at the Public Theater at age 30 — and then boom, you’re off to Broadway: “Barnum,” “Dreamgirls,” “Once on This Island,” and “The Life,” for which won you a 1997 Tony.

A. I went to the City University of New York, uptown in Harlem, where I studied with Joseph A. Walker. He started a theater company called the Demi-Gods; I was with them for almost seven years. He wrote all of the plays we did, and his wife, Dorothy Ann Dinroe-Walker, wrote the music. We had some really wonderful guest teachers come in to give us acting lessons and dancing lessons.

Q. A dream fulfilled! I gather you’ve worked with Seth quite a bit over the years? He highlighted your seemingly effortless melismas — what he calls “that extra bit of sassafras” — in one of his YouTube “deconstructions.”

A. I’ve done a lot of stuff with Seth, including his radio show, and the Playbill cruises, especially. We went to Tahiti, the Caribbean, and just recently we were on a river cruise on the Rhone. It was divine!

Q. I imagine this concert will differ a bit from his usual interview-and-impromptu-performance format. It’s in a church, so perhaps he can’t be quite as . . . unlaced. Have you decided on a song list? Will you get to rehearse with the kids who’ll be sharing the stage?


A. You know what? I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just following Seth’s lead. He said, “Come on, let’s do this in Boston.” And I said “OK!” I’m always doing benefits for something or other. It’s great that we’re doing this for Y2Y, a homeless shelter for LGBTQ young adults in Harvard Square. This is the season where we’re supposed to be thankful for what we have, and there are so many people who don’t have as much or are not as lucky as we are, to have friends and support, good food to eat, and a place to live, If you’ve got it good, then you should spread it around.


At United First Parish Church, 1306 Hancock St., Quincy, Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. Tickets $25-$35, 800-838-3006, www.fairsaturday.org/en/fair-saturday-quincy

Sandy MacDonald can be reached at smacd@aol.com; follow her on Twitter @sandymacdonald.