BWW Interview: Carla Stewart of THE COLOR PURPLE at Peace Center

BWW Interview: Carla Stewart of THE COLOR PURPLE at Peace CenterThe acclaimed national tour of The Color Purple arrives at The Peace Center in Greenville, SC, on March 13.

BroadwayWorld recently spoke to Carla R. Stewart, who plays Shug Avery, about her experience with the musical and what audiences can expect to see.


BWW: You were in The Color Purple on Broadway, right?

Yes. In fact I made my Broadway debut with The Color Purple. I started out as Olivia, who is Celie's daughter, as part of the ensemble. By the end of the run I was the lead church lady, and I closed Broadway in that track. And that whole time I was also understudying Sophia and Shug. When the tour came around they called and offered me Shug and it was a very exciting moment for me. It's a great role.

BWW: How does the musical compare to the book and the movie?

The book gives a lot of depth and back story. And of course it's just an iconic movie with such great actors - Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey. But the musical just adds a little icing on the cake, if you will. It pushes the story further, and with our story, we lean a little closer to the book, but there's the element of three church ladies who play the chorus, who kind of fill in the blanks and they're also the comedy relief. So I think if you've seen the movie, if you've read the book, you won't be disappointed with the musical. You won't be like, "Oh, I wish they would've left it alone." No, you'll be like, "That was amazing."

BWW: What was your experience with the material before hand?

Growing up I definitely saw the movie. But it wasn't until I was in college that I really read the book and became a big fan of the book. Then when I was doing the show on Broadway, reading the book again gave so much back story to the characters. It just goes a little bit more in-depth. Alice Walker is such a brilliant writer, and the imagery and richness of the writing is a great resource for us actors to help better tell the story.

BWW: Isn't your character, Shug, almost a catalyst in the story?

I think so, yes, because she's the one who pushes Celie. There are two women who Celie meets along the way, Sophia and Shug. Sophia is very strong and very opinionated, but then here comes Shug and she's very opinionated, and just at Celie's weakest point pushes her - like, hey, don't lose your faith, don't lose your hope, there's still hope, don't let these things break you, you still have a voice. I think Shug reminds her of all these things. She really is a catalyst.

BWW: You have a couple of big numbers. Which is one that you really enjoy doing?

I think "Too Beautiful for Words" is one of my favorites. It's sweet. I don't think that Shug is very good at apologies, I don't think she thinks that she's wrong. Sometimes she may recognize that she's wrong, but she's not the one who will say, "I'm sorry," because that would be admitting she is wrong. So she sings "Too Beautiful for Words" almost as an apology without saying the actual words "I apologize, I'm sorry." She offers this song. In my mind, I'm thinking, "I was very wrong to you and how dare I come in and talk about you, and now I've gotten to know you and you're such a beautiful person," but I just really don't know how to say that. But that's what musicals do - she can just sing about it! Then there's a big fun number right after that, "Push the Button," which is a great big ensemble number. I love it. It's just a joy, with big dancing and singing.

BWW: I know some people think of the story as depressing, but isn't there more to it than that?

There are some very dark moments in this show, but it also give hope. If you stay on the journey and go with us, we get you to the point of redemption and hope and self-worth and just the freedom that forgiveness gives. You leave really feeling like, wow, you want to be a better human being, you want to make that human connection with people. Yes, there are dark moments, but songs like "Push the Button" give us that peak that takes us out of the valley.

BWW: It feels like this is a show that can really speak to you and even change you as a person.

There are so many repeat audience members who come back over and over, they tell us, they write us, they say that the show has really changed their lives. And that is such a powerful statement. And it's such a great honor to be part of something so big like this, that moves the heart and affects the soul. I'm really blessed to be a part of it and witness these people come back and saying, "I've been changed because of this show." It's just amazing. And a lot of men really enjoy the musical more than the movie. I have brothers who've all seen it, and they all say they really connected with this a lot more. And I think it's because in this version we give Mister that chance, that opportunity, to redeem himself.


The Color Purple is the 2016 Tony Award® winner for Best Musical Revival! Hailed as "a direct hit to the heart" (The Hollywood Reporter), this joyous American classic about a young woman's journey to love and triumph in the American South has conquered Broadway in an all-new "ravishingly reconceived production that is a glory to behold" (The New York Times) directed by Tony winner John Doyle.

The show runs March 13-18 at The Peace Center in downtown Greenville, SC. Tickets start at $35. For reservations and showtimes call the box office at 864-467-3000 or visit peacecenter.org.

The Saturday, March 17, 2 p.m. performance is designated as an ASL signed performance.

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