Color Purple's Cynthia Erivo Discusses Gratitude for Reception of Her Work

Diva Talk   Diva Talk: Color Purple Tony Nominee Cynthia Erivo Discusses Gratitude for Reception of Her Work
 
The singing actress will be featured on this weekend's Tony Awards broadcast.
Cynthia Erivo in <i>The Color Purple</i>
Cynthia Erivo in The Color Purple Matthew Murphy

Cynthia Erivo, whose emotionally charged and thrillingly sung performance as Celie in the Tony-nominated revival of The Color Purple is one of the highlights of the just-ended Broadway season, was full of joy the morning Tony nominations were announced May 3.

And, the acclaimed singing actress had ample reason. Just as she was about to perform the musical's title song on NBC's Today, Erivo was informed that the Broadway revival had been nominated for four Tony Awards, including a Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical nomination for her performance.

“[I was] trying to pull myself together in order to sing the song,” Erivo said that same morning, “but [was] completely overwhelmed, and what a way to find out! It was just incredible. I’m really pleased and really happy.”

Based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a young woman who overcomes oppression and violence in her own home to discover her true self, this revival of The Color Purple began its life on the other side of the Atlantic at London's Menier Chocolate Factory, where it was also directed and designed by John Doyle. Erivo's performance was also honored in London—the petite powerhouse received an Evening Standard Theatre Award nomination, and this weekend she competes with Laura Benanti (She Loves Me), Carmen Cusack (Bright Star), Jessie Mueller (Waitress) and Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) for the Tony.

“I didn’t come here expecting to get that, and I didn’t know that that’s how Celie would be taken in,” Erivo says. “I didn’t know that that’s what people would do with her and feel about her. I’m just completely grateful that people think I’m worthy enough to be even nominated for this award. It’s just something that you see from afar and think, ’I hope one day, maybe one day, I might get that in my lifetime—we’ll see what happens.’ Then when it turns up, it’s like, ’Oh my gosh. It’s happened. I’m nominated.’ This is something that you see other people have—you watch Audra McDonald get it, and you think she’s so awesome. It’s amazing.”

Audiences have also been pleased: Erivo receives standing ovations eight times a week at the Jacobs, explaining, “We had quite a rambunctious audience in London, but that was for London. Here, the audience is like ten times as loud and immersive and with you—it feels like a rock concert sometimes in that theatre, it really does. It’s completely overwhelming and wonderful at the same time.”

Danielle Brooks, John Doyle and Cynthia Erivo
Danielle Brooks, John Doyle and Cynthia Erivo Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The Color Purple, which was first seen on Broadway in 2005, was adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Marsha Norman, with music and lyrics by Grammy Award winners Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. When asked the challenge of the role, which was created on screen by Whoopi Goldberg and in the original Broadway production by Tony winner La Chanze, Erivo answers, “Really, truly, I think, making sure that I conserve the energy in the daytime and make sure that there’s enough energy so I can tell the story completely and truthfully. I’m not very good at marking or holding back things. I tend to let everything go, as it needs to go. Sometimes I have to sort of mark myself and say, ’Okay, take it easy here, so you have enough for the rest of it—that you have enough fuel for the rest of the show to make sure you can really tell it fully.’”

And, is Erivo able to leave the emotional journey behind her when the curtain comes down each night? “I have to,” she says. “By the end of the show, everything is out on the stage … for everyone else to have. One person said, ’It’s like you leave your lungs and your guts on the floor for everyone to have and then you leave the stage.’ That’s basically what happens because there’s no other way to do it….I feel like truth is the best way to tell a story, so I just give everything as much as I possibly can and make sure that I get home and drink a tea and just calm everything back down again.”

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly Their Favorite Things.

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