The Color Purple proves that while sometimes hope might be the only thing you have left, it might also be the only thing you need.
The critically acclaimed musical, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize- winning book about life, love and enduring pain, came to Toronto this week with rousing music and an uplifting message that hopes to capture a spirit of hope and personal rejuvenation.
Lead actress Kenita Miller plays Celie, a young girl raped by her stepfather, mistreated by her reluctant husband and told by many how “ugly” she is, but who ultimately discovers the power of love, forgiveness and believing in herself.
For Miller, the chance to play a character with so much depth and strength was too intriguing to pass up.
“When you get a chance to play a full human being, you have to take it. It’s been my most challenging role so far,” Miller said.
The role has also helped Miller come to terms with her own insecurities and fears, just like Celie does.
“Roles can be healing if you allow them to be and I think this has been healing for me — it’s helped me to become a stronger individual,” Miller said.
Felicia P. Fields, who reprises her Tony Award nominated performance as the biting funny and strong-willed Sofia, says her character’s ascerbic wit and feminist sensibilities are not a far stretch from her own, including her physical toughness. Case in point: Fields has actually slugged a guy with a lamp when he deserved it, for real.
“A lot of her is a lot of me. My mother said, ‘They’re paying you to be yourself!’” Fields joked.
The production marks somewhat of a homecoming for composer Brenda Russell, who was born in New York but raised in Hamilton, Ont. Russell co-composed the music with Allee Willis and Stephen Bray and says the quality of Walker’s book made inspiration easy to find when writing music.
“We were blessed to start off with an incredible story that millions of people have fallen in love with and I’m proud of the way the audience connects with the music,” Russell said.
Rather than being a solely personal thing, Russell says writing is a process not only of creation, but listening to a greater spiritual force as well.
“The music is out there somewhere and you’re just a channel. It’s not all about you – call it God, call it spirituality. It’s like you’re a radio tuning in,” Russell said.
• The Color Purple runs until March 14 at the Canon Theatre in downtown Toronto.