Ashanti steps to the mic, casually tells those gathered, "So I'm at it again with Dorothy," and then proceeds to belt out "Home," the showstopper from "The Wiz," which she just signed on to for the Encores! Summer Stars series.
Toto, we're not in Glen Cove anymore.
Although Ashanti's a Grammy winner - with a string of chart-toppers that she's both written and sung - and has acted in numerous films, including playing Dorothy in "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" - she admits she was a little nervous about learning her lines and stepping into a big Broadway musical.
WANTING IT BAD "It's such an amazing, iconic show," Ashanti said. "When my agent called and said we had the opportunity . . . I flew back into New York that day, went in, did the audition and it was just amazing." Yes, she happily auditioned for the team from "In the Heights" handling the show - director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and music director Alex Lacamoire. "This is Broadway!" she said, laughing.
SHAKING IT UP Ashanti isn't alone in trying something new. "When people think about Encores!, they think about Cole Porter, they think about Irving Berlin, they think about Richard Rodgers," said Jack Viertel, Encores! artistic director. "They don't think about rock and roll. They don't think about soul and R&B. So we're extremely eager to shake things up in this way."
TRYING IT OUT Though Ashanti isn't quite ready to make a long-term Broadway commitment, she is excited about seeing how it goes alongside Orlando Jones (the Wiz) and LaChanze (Glinda). "This is a great tester. This is my one toe in the pool."
WHAT "The Wiz"
WHEN | WHERE Tomorrow through July 5, New York City Center, 130 W. 56th St., Manhattan
INFO $25-$110; 212-581- 1212, nycitycenter.org