editor's pick

‘Ester & Eric’ brings St. Louis native back for one night

Eric Williams and Ester Steinberg

Eric Williams and Ester Steinberg

Eric Williams is heading to St. Louis this month with a lot of baggage in tow. Let’s see, there’s the baggage of growing up in a Jewish household in Ladue, the baggage of celebrating his bar mitzvah at B’nai Amoona next to his twin brother and the baggage of finally coming out as a gay man during his senior year at Whitfield School. And we haven’t even begun to count the baggage he’s accumulated since attending college at New York University and pursuing a career as an actor.

The thing about Williams’ baggage is that he unpacks it all on stage in “Ester and Eric’s One Woman Show,” a fundraiser that he will perform at the New Jewish Theatre at 8 p.m. Jan. 11. The hour-long production focuses on two “frenemies” who are forced to perform their solo shows together when the venue accidentally doubles books them for the same night.

“The show came about because I was working on a film in L.A. with my creative partner Ester,” explains Williams, 30. “We had this idea — what if we were both trying to do one-person shows and the venue doubled booked us. We pitched the idea to the crew of the movie and everyone was laughing. So we kept thinking about how we could heighten this idea and turn it into something.”

Two years later, Williams and Ester Steinberg finally started writing the show. After a few months, they felt they were onto something.

“Ester’s husband, Noah Gardenswartz, who is the executive story editor of ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ had a night booked of performing stand-up at a small venue in New York. He said if we wanted to try out the show, he was willing to give us the space for a night.

“That was like 18 days into the future. So we buckled down, finished writing and rehearsed. We knew we wanted to put it out in the world and this was our chance.”

The show got big laughs, enough so that Williams and Steinberg were encouraged to book a venue in Greenwich Village to see if it had wider appeal.

“We put up the show in August 2019 and sold out,” said Williams. “That got the attention of the New York Comedy Festival, which officially booked us. So we did that in November and sold out as well. Every time we do the show it gets better and better. Audiences seem to love it.”

Williams says the show is “jammed-packed” with material that is not only funny but also relatable. By the same token, he cautions its content is very much for mature adults.

“I told my parents and my friends I was a little nervous to do the show in St. Louis,” said Williams. “But my dad said not to censor it. We should just go for it.”

Williams’ parents are Marcy and Rick Williams, co-owner of Ladue and Millbrook pharmacies. Williams’ grandfather, Maurice Williams, founded the business in 1952 and is still “going strong,” at age 91, according to his grandson.

Williams, who now lives in New York, has been working fairly steadily since he graduated from NYU. His “big break,” as he explains, came when he won the part of Buddy the Elf in the national tour of “Elf, the Musical,” a role that he reprised in 2018, before the show stopped touring.

“I first auditioned for the show in 2014 and got a couple of callbacks but didn’t get the part,” he said. “The next year I went back to the auditions and said, ‘This is my part. I know I am perfect for this.’ I auditioned and had nine callbacks. It took two months for me to get the role. And it was life changing.

“I had a lot of anxiety, worried about the pressure but once I realized I could do it, I felt like the world was limitless.”

Williams credits his acting teachers at New City School and Whitfield School, Diane Davenport and Amy Allen-Cano, respectively, as well as his voice coach, Sheila Dugan, with inspiring him to challenge himself, work hard and practice. He performed numerous shows as a member of Muny Kids, including “Grease,” “Miss Saigon” and “The Producers,” and has fond memories of those summer experiences.

In October, Williams’ married his partner of six years, Matt Lummus (“rhymes with hummus,” Williams tells me). The two met at an audition for “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“Fortunately, for the two of us, he is no longer in the business,” said Williams laughing, adding that Lummus now works as a social media marketer. “I didn’t have the guts to ask for his number but found his name on the sign-up sheet, memorized it, tracked him down on Facebook and sent him a message.”

Williams admits that it took some time for him to come out. He recalls flying back with his mother from New York after college visits during his senior year of high school. The two were waiting for a connecting flight in Chicago, when they got to talking.

“My mom asked me how I was feeling about things. She knew as a kid I had been made fun of. I had told her over the years I was struggling with different thoughts. For some reason she waited until that moment to ask me about how I was doing with all that.

“It was like a faucet was turned on,” Williams continued. “I immediately came out to her and felt this huge emotional release. It really led to great things.”

Looking ahead, Williams says his biggest dream is not only to star in his own show, but also serve as its producer, championing the project from the very beginning.

“Theater is my first love,” he said. “If there was a theatrical role I was in love with I would 100 percent go for it.

“But as I have gotten older and realized where my talents lie, my skills lend themselves to creating original work and creating characters, especially in comedy. Whether it’s in TV or film, I think my ability is to bring a script to life on camera.”

 

VIP tickets to “Eric & Ester’s One Woman Show” are $75 and include preferred seating, a complimentary cocktail and a meet and greet with the performers; general tickets are $25.  For tickets and more information, go to http://bit.ly/ester-eric.