BWW Interview: Sheryl Lee Ralph Talks New Nickelodeon Show INSTANT MOM, Premiering Tonight

Sheryl Lee Ralph is stepping off the stage and onto the small screen in the new Nickelodeon sitcom "Instant Mom." Ralph will be playing Maggie, an overbearing mother to daughter, Stephanie (Tia Mowry-Hardict), who has just taken on the role of mom to three stepchildren. The comedy joins Nickelodeon's NickMom lineup, with its series premiere tonight, at 8:30 pm ET/PT.

A veteran of the stage, Ralph is best known for originating the role of Deena Jones in the original Broadway musical "Dreamgirls," a role for which she was nominated for a Tony Award in 1982. Other stage work includes "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and, most recently, 2009's "The First Wives Club." She has also done extensive work in film and television including a starring role in "Moesha" and the title role in "Mistress."

This week, Ralph spoke exclusively to BWW about her hilarious new show, playing Jennifer Hudson's mom on "Smash" and the role she would love to do on Broadway.

What can you tell me about your new series on Nickelodeon?

First of all it's great. It's a wonderful piece of situation comedy. It's amazing because it is also simply funny. It's classic. It's intergenerational meaning you can sit down and everybody gets something out of it. There's something in it for everybody. It's a throwback to the classic days of TV comedy. It's purely funny. Great cast, great script.

Your character is described as an "overbearing mother". As a mom yourself, can you relate to that at all?

[Joking] Absolutely not! There's nothing about that character in the least bit that reminds me of myself! Me? Overbearing? Never! I'm nothing close to that, I am so calm and retiring and shy! [Laughs]

Does the role present any challenges?

The Challenge is that I enjoy it way too much. I have been given the gift of a wonderful, wonderful character that I enjoy playing. In the moments when I'm not on stage or in the scene, everybody always says, "oh my God it just wasn't the same without you." I am very blessed and very thankful.

Will you do any singing on the show?

In fact, this last episode that we just wrapped, Tia sings on it, Gabby (Syndey Park) sings on it, and I sing on it. We all sing on it.

Do you have any plans to return to the Broadway stage?

Let me tell you, everybody has asked me that question today. I'm sure that God must have something in the future there for me. Who knows? It would be great to play Miss Hannigan in "Annie" in the wintertime-one never knows! There might be something brand new that I could do in the hiatus of the show, because I am sure the show is going to get picked up for another season.

You have had such a diverse career in film, television and the stage. I'm wondering if you have a preference between the three?

There is nothing like live theater. There's nothing like live performance. There is nothing like getting up there in front of the audience by yourself, with just the lights, the mic, and the audience and doing what you do. That's why I keep doing "Divas Simply Singing" every year. It's an opportunity for me to bring the best of the best together to simply do their thing in a way that's unlike anything else.

What advice would you give someone who is just starting out?

I would tell them to get as much education as they possibly can. I would tell them what was told to me: really, really hone your craft. A more educated performer/artist is a far more interesting performer/artist. Don't just roll out of bed and think it's going to happen great every time. You have got to work at that. You've constantly got to be on top of what's new, what's developing and how you can make yourself better. It used to be that you were fine Being a triple threat. Now you need to be that and a bag of chips!

You recently starred opposite Jennifer Hudson on "Smash". Did the two of you discuss your roles in Dream Girls?

We most certainly did and it was great conversation all around. She said that one of the things that she was sorry about was the fact that we never got to meet during the time that they were shooting the film. That was also my feeling. I was very sorry we were never given the chance to meet and talk during the shooting of the film. But it was great, great, great having the opportunity to play her mom on "Smash". She was very kind and very gracious. I walked into my trailer that first day of shooting and in the room was the hugest arrangement of flowers. It was so big that it was obvious either the flowers had to go or I had to go because we both couldn't fit in the room together. She was very, very sweet. She had a note in there that said, "To Ms. Ralph, you are all I ASPiRE to be."

That character was so fun to play. She was another one of those "mama don't take no" characters. And I loved to set Derek [character on "Smash"] back on his behind. He was not prepared for that. He said, "I have to get out of this situation quick because I am not ready for this woman!" He did not know what to make of me!

Anything else?

Let me tell you! Sundays, 8:30, Nickelodeon, "Instant Mom." It's a great show, you don't want to miss it. Saturday, October 12, Club Nokia, the 23rd annual "Divas Simply Singing," the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country. And for all of those artists in training, pick up my book, Redefining Diva. You will not regret it!

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From This Author Casey Alter Mink

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