The following article appeared in the August 2006 issue of Ebony Magazine
The following is a program from Broadway's The Color Purple. This was sent to me by Crista. Thank you Crista.
The following article appeared in the March 20, 2006 issue of Jet Magazine
The following article appeared in the December 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
The following article appeared in the December 2005 issue of Essence Magazine
Dreaming in 'Purple'
Meet the actresses bringing the Alice Walker story to B'way
By JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ
For actors working in musical theater, getting cast in a Broadway show is as good as it gets - unless it's one backed by Oprah Winfrey. Then, it's even better.
That sentiment is expressed often by cast members of "The Color Purple," the musical based on the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the film adaptation by Steven Spielberg. In September, the talk-show host became the presenting producer of the $10 million production, which means her name hovers - not unlike a guardian angel - on the marquee.
It's easy to understand the excitement about having the media mogul onboard. When Winfrey, an Oscar nominee for her performance as Sofia in the 1985 movie, puts her faith - and, in this instance, $1 million - in something, others follow suit. Her endorsement will help fill seats at the Broadway Theatre, where the show is in previews for a Dec. 1 opening.
"We all hoped Oprah would see the show and like it," says LaChanze, who stars as Celie, a long-suffering black Southern woman who eventually triumphs over her abusive husband, Mister. "We all believe in Oprah."
To bring "The Color Purple" to the stage, the creative team - including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marsha Norman and songwriters Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray - relied on the book and movie. On stage, as in the novel, the love affair between Celie and blues singer Shug (Elisabeth Withers-Mendes) is pronounced - more so than in the film. The same is true of the way in which Mister's redemption is handled. But all three versions vividly depict ways in which women support each other and help each other to grow. "It's not a black story, it's not a white story - it's a heart story," says Broadway newcomer Withers-Mendes. "It's a quilt of love about sisterhood."
We talked with LaChanze, Withers-Mendes and the other female principals to discover the many shadings they're weaving into "The Color Purple."
Role: Squeak, an aspiring singer who becomes Harpo's lover after Sofia leaves him
Previous credits include: Dance ensembles of "Fosse," "Aida" and "Sweet Charity"
She says: "When I went to audition for Squeak for the Atlanta production, they'd been auditioning for Squeak for nearly five months. I was one of the last roles cast.
"It's amazing that a casting agent who'd cast me as a dancer in several shows would consider me for an acting role. When people see you in different ways it allows you to see yourself differently. This is my first acting role, my first principal part - and it's in a show that Oprah Winfrey is behind. Wow!
"Squeak can be misunderstood because her voice is high and cartoonish, but she is an ambitious young woman, make no mistake. So am I. I was born in Queens and raised in Trinidad. Even as a girl, I knew I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be on Broadway. I was 11 years old - in Trinidad! Maybe it was my naivete, but I often look back and remember what it feels like to have total courage, complete confidence."
Felicia P. Fields
Role: Fiercely independent Sofia, who marries Mister's son Harpo
Previous credits include: Various stage roles in her hometown of Chicago, where she worked with "The Color Purple" director Gary Griffin
She says: "Sofia fits me just right - like a snug silk stocking. We're both fighters. When Sofia says, 'Hell, no!' she means it. So do I. In this business, you've got to be a fighter.
"The movie of 'The Color Purple' has been airing on TV constantly. It's driving me crazy. What happens is that people refresh their brains. They come into the theater and they compare the movie and the musical. I try to stay so far away from that.
"Gary Griffin has been instrumental in my becoming an actor. A few years ago, in Chicago, we were rehearsing 'Carousel.' I was wearing a dress that looks just like the one Sofia wears in the movie 'The Color Purple.' I started repeating one of Sofia's memorable lines - 'You told Harpo to beat me! You told Harpo to beat me!' - and Gary said to me, 'If I ever do a musical of "The Color Purple" I've already got my Sofia.'
"You never know," Fields adds with a laugh.
Role: Sexy singer Shug Avery
Previous credits include: Recurring "Sweet Tree & Morgan" skits on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien"; singing with Cher, Celine Dion and Luther Vandross
She says: "I was born to play Shug. I'm from a small town, Joliet, Ill., a place that has sweet collard greens and great churches. Shug's father is a minister. My father is a deacon. Shug loves fun, laughing, sex. She loves big, she loves a lot. That's who I am. I looked to Bessie Smith, Lena Horne, Alberta Hunter and Margaret Avery, who played Shug in the movie, as reference points to play the character.
"It's extremely significant to have Oprah Winfrey involved. When she came to rehearsal, she said to us, 'Twenty years ago I had to beg to get my name on the movie poster and now I'm begging to keep my name off the marquee' [because she didn't want to overshadow the work of producer Scott Sanders]. It was very humbling."
Role: Celie, a brutalized Southern woman who ultimately overcomes years of abuse
Previous credits include: "Once on This Island," "Ragtime" and "Company"
She says: "I got a call from my agent saying, 'They're doing a musical of 'The Color Purple.' I immediately thought, What are people going to sing about? It's such a dark story. But when I read the material, which is filled with love and faith and redemption, I understood the beauty and power.
"I desperately wanted to play Celie. I understand her feelings of grief and loss and pain. I also understand her inner strength."
LaChanze's first husband, Calvin Gooding, was killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center when she was eight months pregnant with their second daughter. She remarried last summer.
"God has put me here at the right time in my life," she says. "I'm confident about doing a good job. I'm not afraid. The challenge for me will be in sustaining the emotional depth of Celie - it's such a demanding role. That's my daily prayer.
"Like Celie, who has faith in God, I have faith. I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual. Without faith, life is futile. We all have to believe in something in order to exist successfully in this world and to enjoy our time here, which is short. I know that."
Renée Elise Goldsberry
Role: Celie's sister Nettie, who goes to Africa and becomes a missionary
Previous credits include: "The Lion King," "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and TV's "One Life to Live"
She says: "I'm from Houston and Detroit - I call them both home. I have three brothers who I'm very close with. It's very easy for me to look at LaChanze and connect with her and love her, which I think is the most important thing my character can do. It's the simplest thing in the world."
Goldsberry studied music as an undergrad and in graduate school. "I won the John Lennon songwriting contest. I don't have a lot of time to write songs much these days because I've been so busy - thank God," she says. "Out of everything I do, including acting and singing, I think that I'm best at songwriting."
Perhaps she should start composing a lullaby. The actress is leaving the production "at the end of the year" because she and her husband, an attorney, are expecting their first baby.