Avery Sommers has long served the world of theater with her booming voice and talent she presents on the stage. Starting in the original cast of Platinum (1978), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978) where she replaced Nell Carter after stepping down from her role, she moved on to do a national tour with Chicago as Matron “Mama” Morton (1997) lasting eighteen months.
Followed by a U.S. tour of The Best Little Whore House in Texas (2001). However, this list doesn’t even begin to summarize all Sommers’ has accomplished. To this day, she is still creating art and performing. In South Florida she has managed to work for a plentitude of theaters such as Actors’ Playhouse with Hairspray, which landed her the coveted Carbonell Award, The Kravis Center’s 2020-21 season, Palm Beach Dramaworks with a series of cabaret performances and so much more. There isn’t anything Avery Sommers can’t do. But aside from what can be found with any Google search, who is the Avery Sommers we have come to know and love? I had the chance to sit down with her this past week, discussing her rise to stardom and the journey of an accomplished African American woman in the world of Theater.
How did you find yourself going down this path, did someone or something provoke your interest in this profession? Family or an idol?
“I started singing when I was five. I grew up in a Baptist Church, when we were kids there were always these little programs. My mom would always say, ‘Get up baby and sing!’ Being an obedient child, I would get up and sing. It’s always been a dream of mine; I think by the time I graduated high school I knew what I wanted to do for a living and for a lifestyle. My sister said, ‘If you’re going to do this, you got to go out and study. You can’t just throw yourself into this field without knowing what you’re doing.’ So I studied voice and acting.”
What was it like performing on Broadway? Was it a tough road for you? What made you fall in love with Broadway?
“I went to New York with a show that was going to Broadway, while in Los Angeles I auditioned for the show called Platinum. So I didn’t really need to find my footing. It was very exciting, there was no need for me to feel threatened. And after that show closed, I went from show to show. My friends and I, we laugh all the time because when there were shows specifically catering to black women, there was only about five or six of us. So, we called ourselves ‘The Dark Divas’.”
One show that Sommers didn’t get the opportunity to be a part of was The Color Purple. Aced out by her former agent to a younger version of herself that he was promoting at the time. She later ran into the music director who asked her why she never auditioned because she believed Sommers would’ve booked it. This broke Sommers’ heart, leading her to move out of New York and pursue her dreams of her own cabaret (which she hasn’t regretted one moment of).
“I’m originally from South Florida, and I love getting in my car and driving. I love the ocean, and there’s nothing like seeing the ocean to clear your head. I missed my family a lot. But those places didn’t hold much appeal to me anymore.”
Since living in all these amazing cities, that have large presence in performance arts, how would you compare them to South Florida’s scene? What’s different or special and unique about South Florida’s theater?
“When I came back, I didn’t want to do theater anymore. I wanted to do my cabaret shows. I like to stand in front of a gorgeous grand piano, in a gown I choose to sing songs I want to sing when I want to sing them. That’s why I’ve stayed here, and it’s been wonderful. Now, I’m teaching.”
This past June, Sommers joined the board of The Carbonell Awards. From the past events that occurred in 2021, theaters have started to speak up on world issues that find their ways into performance arts. Carbonell reacted by changing their board members to accommodate those who might have been judged by the color of their skin instead of their talents.
Being a part of the board for The Carbonell Awards, as a past winner and a six-time nominee, what is your connection as a board member? Who helped you get involved and what plans have been made for the future?
“I was contacted by one of the members, they were looking for diversion and inclusion. They have also asked me to be a judge to go and see the shows which is an important part to the Carbonells. I wanted to be involved in policy making. How do they make them? How do they implicate them? So, I am thrilled to be a part of the board and help them make a difference.”
Sommers has always been a strong advocate for her community. Someone who worked during the age of women empowerment in theater and the prolonged sorrow of hatred presented onto the African American community. To be a part of both, I wondered how it was for her.
“Tomorrow I am singing for the cultural counsel for their diversity and inclusion seminar. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of that, because of what they are doing for the community.” Continuing her activism she has come to see what allies can do and have done for the community.
“I like to call it, ‘Shining a light in a corner where darkness was,’ and there have been a lot of dark times with so much going on. People who were willing to look in those corners and see the darkness, realize that there was something that needed to be done, people I like to call ‘fully awake’.”