How the Color Purple Changed my Life
What was it like revisiting the Color Purple ten years later on Broadway?
Like I said, when you have youth, there’s a bit of tenacity but there’s also a bit of bliss and ignorance. There’s a “bit of everything is new! everything’s fabulous!” that’s what the first The Color Purple was. I’d never really experienced a level of success like that show. What I mean by success is the attention that came and celebrities that saw the show. Yeah, with Oprah being attached to it, that was a big thing but when she walked into the studio and surprised us, That’s when I was asking those questions of “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? Why me God?” but in a good way!
It was all from this position of “I’m so grateful for this, why did you choose me?” Why did you choose me to be a part of this show that celebrated our culture this fully? I’d never been a part of a show like that. I didn’t have to go outside myself to celebrate our culture, to celebrate my cast, to celebrate us.
I had to really go inside myself for for this show, and engage with my ancestors and my spirit.
So that was different for me because I was accustomed to doing the traditional musical theater shows, you know. It was a show that really connected to the heart of who I am as a human and then me as an artist. In that first production of The Color Purple we were nominated for 13 Tony Awards and we only won one.
And every time another category came up, we were like “Okay we’re gonna win this. We’re gonna win this one.” So when Lachanze won, we celebrated that because she was really the beacon of our show. Fast forward to 10 years after that, with the revival. I felt like the revival production was everything that the first production wanted to be. I’m not discounting what we did in the first production because we needed that version to then get to this legacy and understand what needed to change.You know, The first production was massive, we had a turntable, a cast of over 25, with eight dancer tracks, it was huge.
The revival production was stripped down, and it got straight to the story and straight to this lead character, Celie.
Working with John Doyle every day was a masterclass, He allowed us a process. He allowed the actor to play. He would say “Marshall, how did you feel about that scene that we just ran?” And that was the first time as a professional I’d ever had a director, allow me to add my voice to the process so it made us all feel connected.
Then we were open enough to share ourselves and I think that was why that piece was so well received and so good. Then of course, Cynthia Erivo was slightly talented haha! So that was another experience, But the cherry on top for me was having Heather Headley join the show. Baby! I thought I had seen everyone play Shug Avery but when she came in as Shug, It really felt like she ripped the script in half and then re composed it. I couldn’t believe it. We’d never seen Shug Avery just as weak and vulnerable as Celie and Heather brought that.
She’s probably one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with on stage. Her humility, her grace, the way she connects with you onstage and even challenges you.
She’s just that type of actress that will really pull it out of you. I remember during maybe the first week of Heather’s run Cynthia came offstage one day after the bathtub scene she said “I had no idea what I was doing but it was so exhilarating. I don’t know what happened on stage, but it fell out of body” That’s what Heather does. She has that quality, and that’s what I really appreciate about the Color Purple. Then we got all the accolades I felt the first one was deserving of. So that’s what I most appreciated as we worked so hard on the show, back in 04/05. I’m really good friends with the writers and the creative team so I’m glad I got to see them get their accolades and their respects with the revival.
You’ve understudied in almost Broadway show you’ve done. So What is your process when it comes to being an understudy and having your own individuality?
I learn the bones of the track. After I have my lines, entrances, exits, what props I grab, and where I stand, I have the bones. From there I go how can I add Grasan into this role? And how I’d do it differently from Brandon Victor Dixon, Isaac Powell, or Leslie Odom Jr. Those are some big names and personalities to cover so I ask myself what are some elements that make this role like me? How is Grasan like Harpo or how is Grasan like Daniel? From there I find ways of making it my own. But Harpo was my favorite understudy to do because I really felt like I connected with him most.
To see Grasan and the revival cast of The Color Purple in their element click here!