Tuesday January 9th-14th Houstonians were treated to the Tony Award winning Broadway play “The Color Purple,”
Cast members included Adrianna Hicks as Celie, Carla R. Stewart as Shug Avery and Carrie Compere as Sofia. This broadway adaptation of both the book and the movie featured a closer interpretation to the book, and the strong voices were a sheer delight as they sang original songs by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray.
We talked to Carla Stewart the week before the play opened, and she gave us some insight into her interpretation of the character of Shug Avery.
AMFM Magazine: When was the first time you remember being impacted by “The Color Purple?”
Carla: I grew up with the movie, obviously, but I revisted it when i was going to school at AMDA, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. We do a little research when we sing songs, we work through those songs in the musical theater there. That was when i really sat down with the movie, all it’s aspects and took it apart, and was able to grab from it what I needed.
I sang the song “I’m Here” at school. That was my first time visiting the movie as an adult. And really taking in all the themes of this iconic story.
AMFM Magazine: You’ve got the part of Shug, did you sing for any other parts?
Carla: No, I just sang the song “I’m Here.” I was a part of the Broadway company as well, At this pointplaying Shug is such an honor, because I’ve seen the story and played the story from many different viewpoints. I had the great privilege of playing one of the ensemble members when I joined the company from this inception on Broadway. I was Olivia, which is Shug’s daughter, then I moved up to Church Lady, but I also understudied Shug as well as Sophia. So I’ve seen the show and been able to tell the story through different eyes a number of times.
AMFM Magazine: Did that give you some insight into the character of Shug, seeing through those different eyes?
Carla: Sure. The women that Celie meets on her journey they are all so different, all very strong women, but different, even the church ladies have an impression on Celie. Every woman that she knows is a story in the community that helps her get to the woman she becomes at the end a victorious woman. A survivor if you will
AMFM Magazine: And Shug was an important part of that transformation. For people who have the read the book or seen the movie, what can people expect from this play that is difference or goes in deeper?
Carla: The story that we tell with the stage production links closer to the book than the movie. People who have seen the movie connect to the songs that Shug sings, but those songs are not there. There’s different music. There’s beautiful writers, Allie Willis and Brenda Russell and Steven Bray. They wrote some beautiful music, You’ll get a little bit of jazz a little bit of gospel a little bit of blues. There’s some parts you won’t see in the movie. Steven Spielberg came to see the Broadway show and he spoke about how he wished he had kept the reconciliation between Celie and Mr. in the movie. That’s not in the movie but it is in this musical. It’s a moment of redemption and reconciliation that is very powerful in this piece. That’s one of the things we would love our audience members to walk away with.,. That there is power in forgiveness. In releasing and letting people go, that releases your heart as well.
AMFM Magazine: That’s beautiful, we need a lot more that in our world right now. Tell me a little bit more about yourself now, and what you’ve brought to the character.
Carla: Shug is a sassy, brassy woman, she defininitely says whet’s on her mind, she’s very quick. . But then there is a moment when she is softened and takes a moment to remmber that everyone is valuable, everyone has a place, God is inside each and every one of us. The moment you let your wall down to have this encounter with whomever you may be in a space with, that’s when you really get to know a person and that’s when you get to know yourself.
With us living in such a social media driven world, I think people put on different faces, these different masks, They show you who they want you to see, and almost forget who they really are. There is a moment where Shug is talking to Celie, and bringing her back to who she knows Celie to really be. In that moment there is a softness in Shug, that when she realizes “I’ve been on of these crule and mean people,and that’s not who I really am. She tends to let her guard down in this particular moment..and that’s when you see the heart of who she is.
AMFM Magazine: So would you say honestly that in it’s entirety this story is really about love?
Carla: Absolutely, on every level. Celie and Shug form a bond and a sisterhood, but it’s only because they both lacked a real sense of love. When they both let their guards down with one another, they were able to communicate the heart and soul of these two beings. That’s when the love can really come alive.
AMFM Magazine: And that love is even extended to the bully character, Mr. That is something that is becoming apparent in psychology, that the bullies were bullied themselves, and they too need forgiveness – and in forgiving them you forgive yourself.