Jennifer Hudson won the Academy Award for her performance as Effie White in the film adaptation of the hit musical Dreamgirls, but its taken her until the end of 2015 to make her Broadway debut. She'll be playing Shug Avery in the revival of The Color Purple.
"To be a part of something so powerful and effective and changing to us all… It's so timeless," she said on why she took on the project. "The message in the story, and the power in the women — as women, how could we not feel attached? How could we not want to help tell this story?"
She'll star opposite Cynthia Erivo, who earned raves for her performance as Celie in the musical's U.K. premiere at the Menier Chocolate Factory and will reprise her performance for Broadway.
Why cross the pond for Purple? "Well, I didn't think there was any question, really," Erivo explained. "I wasn't going to wait for anything else to take me here, because this story has been a part of my life for almost two to three years now. And, it was something that changed my life from the very beginning. I learned so much about myself as a person and actress in this role in this show, that when the opportunity came, it was just a complete and utter gift." Danielle Brooks, who will play the show's strong-willed Sofia, will also make her Main Stem debut. Although she's known as a television actress, most notably playing Taystee on the Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black," she studied drama at the Juilliard School.
"For me," she said, "this is the show that made me want to be an actress — a serious actress — an artist and make this a career. This was my first Broadway show that I ever saw at 15 years old, so I get really excited about it! There's no question about why I wouldn't choose to be in this show — to play Sofia, such an iconic character, and to be in such a show that is a legendary piece. It will never die. To be a part of something like that… Of course."
In the U.K. production, Erivo, its star, was under the direction of John Doyle, who will also recreate the pared-down revival on Broadway. Doyle is known for re-configuring iconic work, particularly with a set of actor-musicians as he did in Sweeney Todd and Company.
For Color Purple, he said, "There were no great obstacles, in fact. Last time around, I seemed to remember having a great rehearsal period. We had a great deal of fun. In Britain, they don't give you very long, so we had a very, very short technical time. I'm looking forward to a little more time than that [for Broadway]. That'll be nice! I'm excited.
"That was in a tiny space, which I like, but there's something epic about this story. If I use the word 'operatic,' I don't mean sung like opera, but there's something big and gutsy about this story that I'm really looking forward to seeing going inside a Broadway theatre. The other thing I'm excited about… I've been really lucky in my time that I've worked on Broadway, in that I've worked with most of the great Broadway actresses — Patti [LuPone] and Bernadette [Peters] and Chita [Rivera] and so it goes on — and I've been thinking, 'These ladies are part of a new generation of great Broadway actresses because they've not had that chance yet,' and how absolutely exciting is that? That their time is here for Broadway, and I'm proud of that."
Erivo admitted that she hadn't seen the stage show prior to taking it on. "Not having seen it," she said, "I guess it made it really easy for me to dive in. I wanted to immerse myself in the piece and fully tell it as much as I could. One of the things that helps for me, when you don't see anything before, is that you have nothing to compare it to, so you just do. You get on with it, you get the script, you just be as true to it as you possibly can.
"And, for me, the fact is that Whoopi Goldberg first originated this piece in the film, and she really is one of those actresses who has sort of given me the inspiration to do what I do. I think that her performance was incredible, and I just wanted to make sure that when I did it, it was both honorable to what she has done and honorable to myself as an actor and to the piece that we were creating."
The Color Purple will begin performances Nov. 10 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.