The actress-singer is used to starting her work day with Tia Mowry-Hardrict, Michael Boatman and the juvenile actors on “Instant Mom.” Then “I’ll go early evening, late night on ‘Ray Donovan.’ It’s been challenging, but what a challenge!” she says.
Her unlikely pairing with Voight, as Mickey and Claudette, has become a popular component of the Liev Schreiber hit about a tough Hollywood fixer, “Roy Donovan,” to Ralph’s surprise. “I am always trying to figure out what is it that people love about the two of us together, because the’re like lov-ing it,” she declares, chopping apart her syllables staccato style for emphasis. “There are some people who say, ‘I don’t understand it, but there’s something about the two of you.’ He calls it ‘The Magic.’ It’s just got to be the magic. We just get in there and we just do our thing. It just comes out. You can’t make it happen. Either you’ve got it or you don’t have it. That’s it.”
On the set, according to Ralph, Voight “loves to tell me, ‘Do that character from that other show you do. Can you imagine? She does THAT in the morning and then comes and does THIS at night. She’s amazing.’ He said, ‘You’re really an actress, a really great actress.’ That made me feel so good!”
The magic is particularly interesting to those who know that Voight is in the forefront of conservatives in the entertainment industry, while Ralph, who is married to Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes, is a staunch Democrat. Not surprisingly, “We never talk about that.
“He knows I’m married to a senator. I’ve never felt the need to bring it up because everything has always gone so well with our work. All I’ve felt the need to do was do our job,” she says. “It’s only when people bring it up to me that I rememeber, ‘Oh wow. We are very different.’ But guess what, we are very different on camera, we’re very different in real life, and together we are absolute magic.”
The Waterbury, Connecticut-born performer, a former Miss Black Teen-age New York, evinces a naturally authoritative presence that gives one the sense her team would be a good place to be. She became Rutgers University’s youngest graduate at 19, won a Tony nomination for “Dreamgirls” a few years later, and went on to amass a long list of credits in shows ranging from “Moesha” to “Barbershop” (remembered for her transgender character). She is particularly gratified to find herself in such demand at this stage of her career.
And as if two series weren’t enough, she is also busy as a producer.
“We are getting ready, October 18th, for the 24th Annual Divas Simply Singing. We are now the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country,” she says of the show that’s featured such names as Jennifer Holliday, Jenifer Lewis, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Oleta Addams, Melissa Manchester, Dianne Reeves, Roberta Flack, Eartha Kitt, Stephanie Mills, Fergie, Raven Symone, Loretta Devine, Nancy Wilson, Bonnie Pointer — and, of course, Sheryl Lee Ralph.
This year, “We’re moving to Hollywood, we’ll be doing it in the Recardo Montalban Theatre, which is so fitting becasue Ricado Montalban left that theater for the community for all people to have an artistic place to represent themselves. What could be a more perfect place to bring this concert for what is probably going to be our last two years?” she asks.
Last two years? “I say to anybody, 25 years of my life is a good amount of time for anything,” she says. Expect big plans for the grand finale next year.
Ralph also has “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical” opening off-Broadway. Written by and starring Anthony Wayne (“Pippin,” “Priscilla,” etc.), “The musical is going to open for previews Sept. 5th at the Theatre at St. Clements,” she reports.
Ralph knew the real Sylvester, “an amazing man, who chose to be himself before it was politically correct. I always say the first disco queen was a man, and he was wonderful.
“He wouldn’t have said he was brave,” she adds. “He would have said this is just who I am. I think about that, I think about him. This man was born in the 1940s and chose to, at some point, put himself in a dress and say, ‘I’m the best one to play Billie Holliday.’ What guts did that take? And right up to the very end, when he was really dying due to comokciatons of AIDS, he dressed himself up and had someone push him in his wheelchair so he could be part of the AIDS walk — just amazing strength of character and being! That’s really why I found it easy to say yes to this project.”
She would love to take the show onto Broadway, and “I’m very excited about the possibilities of it. Look at the success of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch.’ The minute you hear our music, you’re ready. It’s 90 minutes of nonstop fabulosity.”
In other words, magic.