This summer The Color Purple receives its European musical premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory. With a fresh, uplifting score of jazz, ragtime, gospel and blues, the production runs from 5 July unil 14 September, with press night at the Southwark venue on 15 July.
Based on Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple follows the inspirational Celie and her trials, tribulations and triumphs as a young African American woman in 1930s Georgia. A tale of stirring family drama and personal empowerment, Celie journeys from childhood through joy, despair, hope and anguish, to discover the power of love and life.
Directed by Tony Award winner John Doyle (Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show at Menier, and Mack and Mabel) will direct and design The Color Purple will star Cynthia Erivo (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Sister Act: The Musical – UK tour) as Celie; Christopher Colquhoun (Casualty, Five Guys Named Moe); Nicola Hughes (Porgy & Bess) as Shug; Adebayo Bolaji (Ghost) as Harpo.
The British Blacklist has spoken to the four lead stars of this iconic production… introducing Cynthia Erivo who plays Celie…
Congratulations how does it feel playing such an iconic character?
Really good. A little bit tired because we’ve been working quite hard but really good. I’m excited
What was the auditioning process for your role as Celie like?
Pretty cool. I went in sang and read for the piece. I was then called back to do the song ‘I’m here’ and then was told a couple months later I had the role.
Did you do any research beforehand?
The audition piece from the play. The research I did was just reading the play, I’d seen the film before. I knew a lot of the music as I’d heard it already. Once I’d been given the pieces they wanted to hear from the play, I just learned those and that was it really.
What does it mean to play such a significant and iconic character?
It means a lot to me. I mean there’s a bit of pressure because I wanna get it right. I don’t want to copy what’s gone before, I don’t wanna play it the way Whoopi Goldberg played it, I don’t wanna play it the way Fantasia played it. I want to make it my own, and I want it to give a true adaptation. More than anything I wanna be a good storyteller.
In doing that did you have to draw on anything in your personal life?
I can relate to her as a female, but I haven’t been through anything nearly as harrowing at all. So it was a case of putting myself in her shoes and making a true discovery of what would I would do in that time. I had to be understanding of what someone would do nowadays if they were put in that situation which would be completely different if I was put back in 1914 it’s a different understanding altogether. It’s a case of doing the research. So one of the things I automatically wanted to put across was that she (Celie) wasn’t someone who was feeling sorry for herself because she doesn’t know that there’s any reason for her to feel sorry for herself until she’s educated by it.
You were a backing singer for Fantasia once, had you seen her role as Celie in the Broadway version?
I supported Fantasia at the 02 when she came over and did a concert and no I hadn’t. I’ve seen a few clips and heard the music…
Have you worked with any of the other Color Purple cast before?
Yes I’ve worked with Leon Lopez who plays Shug Avery’s boyfriend. It’s the first time I’ve worked with an all black cast. Really and truly it’s not been any different. But I enjoy it. We work well together. We gel together really well.
How does the extent of work differ from small vs. bigger productions?
To be honest the same work has to go into a small production as a big one. The only difference is the space. I’ve done big shows like Sister Act; to me the main difference is the character you’re playing and the setting. But where we physically are is smaller than usual.
Do you feel pressure being the lead, you did it with Sister Act and now Color Purple?
It’s more a responsibility, I always feel that I have to make sure that the people around me are comfortable and I also want to make sure that I’m giving as much as I possibly can to everyone around me to so that for me my main focus is everybody else. I think if the lead sees the story through everyone else’s eyes instead of just their own then the story gets told better. Whatever happens, the story is there anyway.
This story has not been without controversy… feminism/black male bashing/passing the buck on racism…
It’s a great production to be involved in, and also I do think that it’s a story which needs to be told because it hasn’t been told. I think the reason why it feels like a male bashing show is the version people have seen, however I don’t feel like that’s what we’re doing with this show. I don’t think that’s what happens in the book either. I think the book and the stage show, tell the story about characters which are three dimensional. No one person is all bad. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t help to do that otherwise you have a one dimensional show and there isn’t any breakthrough for anyone. So personally, I don’t think we’re faced with any of those issues here and the fact is, those things did happen. Also there aren’t really enough stories which tell the story of women so I think it’s really cool to have a show that really does champion women. Women discovering their sexuality, all of that.
Did you have any qualms about the female sexuality theme?
No. It’s part of what the character has to go through. I knew it was there. It doesn’t bother me.
What’s your pre-stage ritual?
I don’t know yet. It changes from show to show. On Sister Act it was listening to Disco and my make-up was a thing I did ritualistically, how I did it, the order I did it; the way I put my clothes on, things like that and listening to certain music of the time to get me into the mood. I’d have a perfume that I’d use if I was feeling a certain way. One show it was a case of doing exercise or something. I don’t know what I’ll need for this one…
Can we revisit the perfume?
Yes for every character I need a smell. For Sister Act I had Viktor and Rolf’s Flower Bomb. For the last show I did, the scent was White Patchouli by Tom Ford. There’s always a smell for a character. It’s a strange thing that I need. But I don’t know what Celie smells like yet… maybe a talcum powder…
You also sing, which is your first passion?
I always say both, but I have tried not doing one or the other but it never feels rights. So both are my passion they run alongside each other.
Tell me about your background?
I’m 26, I’m from London and my parents are Nigerian. I knew I was interested in performing when I was 5 and throughout schools my teachers picked up on it. I went to summer school programs constantly until I was about 20 and I did something called the Young Actors Company at the Stratford Theatre Royal and it was there I applied for RADA and I got in, studied for three years and graduated in 2010.
It’s been a really short successful journey for you since graduation did you your parents support you?
Yes I’ve been lucky. I didn’t have to convince my mum at all. She was pretty stoked with me acting. She knew before I did. She said the first time she heard me singing was at two years old. She put me in ballet classes when I was little. So she’s always had an idea. She’s always been really supportive, sees everything I’m in. It’s never been a problem.
I can’t say, I’m not allowed. But there is something.
The Color Purple runs from 5th July – 14th September 2013 and tickets can be bought from menierchocolatefactory.com