The Rise of LaVon Fisher-Wilson

With both Broadway and UF on her resume, this inspiring alumna struck the perfect note for the university’s Go Greater campaign kickoff event

As a 10-year-old in Louisville, Kentucky, LaVon Fisher-Wilson had big dreams — and an even bigger voice. In between corralling neighborhood kids for musical performances she directed, Fisher-Wilson began preparing for her dream role: becoming the next Whitney Houston.

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Q&A with LaVon

Favorite song? Dream dinner companion? Best part about being on Broadway?

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She auditioned to attend high school at Louisville’s Youth Performing Arts School with none other than Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” Her acceptance into the program introduced a new dream to the once-aspiring R&B singer: the world of musical theatre.

“I was suddenly exposed to timeless stories with wonderful characters that could live on forever,” recalls Fisher-Wilson. “To me, that became more exciting than the R&B entertainment world.”

Fisher-Wilson, a first-generation college student, studied musical theatre at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois. As her student loans piled up, she set her sights on teaching fellow singer-actors and auditioned for the Master of Fine Arts program in the College of the Arts School of Theatre + Dance. To her relief, she was accepted and granted a scholarship, receiving her MFA in 1998.

There’s this feeling when you’re singing and you hit the note perfectly and it’s like electricity shoots out of your fingers and your body radiates.

During breaks from teaching and taking classes, Fisher-Wilson interned at the Hippodrome State Theatre and was granted a coveted union card, which grants an actor membership to the Actors’ Equity Association.

From there, Fisher-Wilson says, each step was divinely ushered. Her union card helped her bypass cattle calls in New York and shows demanding little rest and strenuous hours. She networked with everyone she met and found an agent who arranged Broadway auditions.

“I really hit the ground running because I knew where I wanted to go. I told myself, ‘I’m going to try, and If I fail, I’ll try harder,’” says Fisher-Wilson, who recently returned to campus, closing the “Go Greater” campaign kickoff event with Andra Day’s “Rise Up.” The campaign, a university-wide effort to increase UF’s global, national and regional impact and influence, has just entered its public phase, with the ultimate goal of raising $3 billion.

LaVon Performs at the Go Greater Kickoff Event

Fisher-Wilson graduated from regional production tours to Broadway show tours. After marrying her husband, Darrell, she landed her first Broadway gig as an understudy for five roles in the original “The Color Purple” in 2005.

One week later, she found out she was pregnant.

“I told my mom, ‘I just got my dream — what am I going to do?’” Fisher-Wilson said, “and she put me in my place and said ‘Black women were picking cotton in the field pregnant; all you have to do is sing a song!’”

On a strict, stomach-settling diet of grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup, Fisher-Wilson would run backstage from morning sickness and then run right back on. She stayed on cast until she was 35 weeks pregnant and gave birth to her son, Darrell, Jr., now 10.

She jumped right back into Broadway, starring in “Chicago” as Mama Morten, in “Lysistrata Jones” as Hetaira and in “Newsies” as Medda Larkin.

Hundreds of performances later, Fisher-Wilson says Broadway hasn’t lost its terrifying magic. She still gets nauseous – although no longer from morning sickness – and her knees wobble. She goes over her lines once or twice backstage and always says a prayer.

“When I go on, I can’t breathe; I feel like I’m going to fall off the stage,” she says. “But then there’s this feeling when you’re singing and you hit the note perfectly and it’s like electricity shoots out of your fingers and your body radiates.”

While each role is unique, Chicago’s Mama Morten holds a special place in her heart. Fisher-Wilson has played her intermittently for nine years and is reprising the role now in the show’s 20th year. She’s also landed a co-starring role in ABC’s “Quantico” and HBO’s “Divorce” to add to her list of television appearances, including Disney’s “Teen Beach Movie.”

For now, Fisher-Wilson books short Broadway tours and concerts to spend the majority of her time at home with her three children, Darrell, Jr., Darrien, 7, and DaVonna, 3.

“It might mean me holding one on my hip while I practice my lines or me singing with my daughter over the phone while I’m away performing,” Fisher-Wilson says. “I plan on being exhausted for the next 15 years.”

Looking to the future, Fisher-Wilson hasn’t set a date on when she plans on retiring. She has goals set for her family and her career. And the connection she feels with performing is not one easily broken.

“Being on stage is the most amazing moment ever,” Fisher-Wilson says, “and it’s all you want to do for the rest of your life.”

Q&A with LaVon Fisher-Wilson

What is your all-time favorite Broadway show?

“Into the Woods.” I love how all of the fairy tales we’ve known as children collide and the characters have to deal with real human problems.

Which role have you played that you most identify with and why?

Sophia in “The Color Purple.” She was raised to be strong, to love hard and to say what’s on her mind. Sometimes it gets her in trouble but, for the most part, it’s all part of her winning combination as a woman.

What are your top five favorite songs?

I’m very old school when it comes to songs: Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Happy Feelings”; Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” (I love Avant’s version, too); Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”; Kool and the Gangs’ “Celebration”; Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” (Not so old school)

Do you have any hidden talents?

I am quite a good visual artist. I love to paint, sculpt and draw.

What is your dream role?

My dream role hasn’t been written. It would be a role in which the female lead is full-figured and has love interests. And the show is really about her journey and celebrating her as a strong, fun-loving woman. It would have great big belting numbers to bring the house down but also emotional ballads that show her tender side. Maybe one day…

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or deceased, who would you choose and what would you eat?

Former President Barack Obama; I don’t care where or what we are eating!

What is the most glamorous thing about being on Broadway?

Seeing your name in lights, in Playbill or in the Broadway world; working with other celebrities who you grew up admiring; and how we touch people with the story we tell onstage and how emotional they can be when they meet you.

What is the least?

You are basically the holiday gift, so you can never take off and be with family for the holidays or weekends. They have to come to you and work around your schedule. But it’s the job — we get that, so it’s cool.

If you were a crayon, which color would you be and why?

Fuschia!!! A big thick Fuschia crayon!!

If you weren’t a singer-actress, what role would you like to have?

I would be a teacher! I love teaching kids and seeing the light in their eyes when they learn something new.