"Color Purple" actress finds strength and sisterhood on the road

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SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — The production of the musical "The Color Purple" launches a national tour after opening at Proctors Theatre's MainStage Wednesday. The opening follows four preview performances which begin Saturday.

It's a production that might be more polished in its early stages than are most tours. This effort is less likely to take time to jell because most of the major performers have had experience with the roles and each other in the Broadway production.

Playing the lead character Celie, the woman who suffers trials and tribulations of biblical proportions before finding a happy life, is Adrianna Hicks. She understudied and often played the role on Broadway.

The strong females who offer support and provide role models for the abused and insecure Celie are also veterans of the Broadway production. They worked as understudies and often performed the roles they will play on the road.

Carla Stewart plays Shug Avery, the head-strong juke singer and sometimes mistress to Celie's husband, Mister. Carrie Compere is the tough Sophia, who will not be diminished or abused by her husband, Harpo. The actors playing those male roles are also former members of the Broadway cast.

Hicks refers to the other ladies in "The Color Purple" as "wonderful friends and sisters." She says the familiarity and love she has for her co-stars is an important element for the success of the road show. " 'Color Purple' is a tribute to the individual's power to survive and grow. Having these women, who are as powerful in real life as they are on stage, gives Celie a pair of strong role models to learn from.

However, despite the experience and unity of the core group of performers, it is Celie who carries the show. Hicks is buoyed by the fact the producers asked her to take the role. She did not have to compete with others. "I guess they liked what they saw and have confidence in me. It's both humbling and gratifying," she said.

She admits she is still in awe of the accomplishment. She says she really didn't think of theater as a career until she studied theater at the University of Oklahoma. "I always loved performing, but my goal was to be a lawyer. Growing up in Texas I loved singing in church and had fun doing plays in high school, but it was not a career choice. I was more interested in music — playing the flute and the piano. That's where I learned to read music. But once I performed in my first musical, I realized that it incorporated everything my heart wanted to do. I majored in musical theater at the college and it shaped me."

For many young performers either cruise ship gigs or small non-Equity tours are the way to build experience and a resume. Hicks took a different route — a several thousand mile detour. She spent four years in Germany, where she worked in several European tours, including "Sister Act" and "Dirty Dancing." Upon returning to the United States she quickly won a part on Broadway in "Aladdin" and joined "The Color Purple" company in 2015.

She laughs as she says this national tour marries her two passions — theater and travel. In the next year she will travel to 50 cities across the country. It's a grind to which she is looking forward. There is only one concern. What kind of emotional drain will the intense role of Celie take on her?

She answers, "I don't know. I haven't had to feel the full weight of her yet. I haven't had to play Celie over a long period of time. In the past, I went on for limited periods — never more than a week — and didn't have to do it for another month or so. It gave me time to get away from all her hardships."

But the actress, a glass half-full person, says the biggest attribute she brings to the role is her authenticity and her ability to bring honesty to every performance. She is confident about the positive aspects of the experience. "Yes, Celie has a tragic life, but `Color Purple' is really a joyful, liberating show. Celie goes through the fire and comes out a better person. I think it's an uplifting experience."

Almost as an afterthought she adds, "Don't forget the beautiful music. The score has gospel, ragtime, jazz and the blues. How could anyone feel down after that?"


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