"Really? Me, as Shug?" — Why Jennifer Hudson Is Stepping Into a Role (and a Broadway Debut) She Never Imagined

News   "Really? Me, as Shug?" — Why Jennifer Hudson Is Stepping Into a Role (and a Broadway Debut) She Never Imagined
 
Jennifer Hudson's Broadway debut has been eagerly awaited since the vocal powerhouse rocketed to stardom on "American Idol," followed by her Oscar-winning performance in the musical film "Dreamgirls." But Hudson, who will soon step onstage at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre as Shug Avery in The Color Purple, never could have predicted this.

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Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson always knew she would get to The Great White Way one day — but never in her wildest dreams did the Academy Award-winning star of the film adaptation of "Dreamgirls" think that she would be making her Broadway debut as Shug Avery in The Color Purple.

"I was like, 'If they ever brought Dreamgirls back to Broadway, that would be great to do.' Obviously that would be the first thing in my mind," she told Playbill about starring in the John Doyle-directed revival of the musical based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. "But I never would've imagined that The Color Purple would be my first. But I think that's it's a great, great introduction and a great start to be able to do such an American classic as my entrée to Broadway."

The former "American Idol" finalist may eternally be etched in filmgoers' memories as Effie Melody White, the surly vocal powerhouse who gets the rug pulled from underneath her in Bill Condon's 2006 blockbuster hit based on the Broadway musical. Almost a decade later, Hudson is finally coming full circle to her career's early beginnings — in musical theatre.

Watch Hudson sing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" in "Dreamgirls."

Before "American Idol" came calling, the Chicago native performed in a 2001 production of Big River at the Marriott Theater in nearby Lincolnshire, IL. She also honed her skills performing soaring ballads aboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship in 2003.

"I think it's definitely some good training to have under my belt and to be able to go into something like this," she explained. "Without it, I wouldn't be able to keep up as well."

"But Broadway is a whole other level," she added.

Even though her much buzzed about story arc on the short-lived NBC drama series "Smash," — chronicling the behind-the-scenes action surrounding the mounting of a multimillion dollar Broadway musical — provided a taste of what a major New York production could involve, for Hudson, there is nothing like the real thing.

"They're their own beasts in a way," she shared about the TV show versus the stage show. "In certain ways they are similar, but what I love most about this process and how things are going is the care and the attention and the focus that's given to what we love: our craft, which is to act, to sing and to really go through it with a fine-tooth comb and perfect it to the best of our ability.

"In television, you don't get that much time," she continued. "I just love the care and the time we put into this. So they are very different because 'Smash' was mimicking what it is like in the theatre and on Broadway."

Hudson played a Broadway star on "Smash." Watch her perform below.

Getting into the swing of things also helps when she's well-versed in the source material. Hudson, also known as JHud, confessed to seeing the world premiere of The Color Purple four times during its Broadway and Chicago runs.

"I loved it. I was a fan of the show," she gushed about the Gary Griffin-helmed production that featured Tony Award winner LaChanze and fellow "American Idol" alum Fantasia Barrino in the lead role of Celie. She even got a chance to catch Destiny's Child member Michelle Williams perform the role of Shug Avery during a tour stop in her hometown.

But taking on the brassy and sassy sexpot role was the furthest thing from the Clive Davis protégée's mind. "It's interesting to be in it and part of it now, because when I was going to see it as a fan, I had never thought of myself in the role of any of the characters. If anything, I would've assumed, 'Maybe Celie or Sofia,' but Shug came as more of a surprise to me."

"It was like 'Really? Me? As Shug? Ok. Wow,'" she added. "I had never thought or even could see it."

Embodying the persona of the polyamorous blues singer who helps shepherd the lead character to her liberation from incest, abandonment, domestic violence and the lowest depths of self-esteem, Hudson found inspiration in some unexpected places.

"I wrote a name down as one of the vocal sources for Shug Avery. I was like, 'Look up Tina Turner' especially for the song 'Push Da Button.' I could hear a little Tina Turner in there somewhere," she confided.

"Actually, I think as far as Shug's personality and her sassiness, it actually reminds me of Blanche [Devereaux] (played by Rue McClanahan) from 'The Golden Girls.' And, she reminds me of Sandra [Clark] (played by Jackee Harry) from '227'... Those people come to mind. There's a little hint from all of them."

Jennifer Hudson on "Smash"
Jennifer Hudson on "Smash" Photo by Will Hart/NBC

"And then musically, we can go back into the Bessie Smith era," she added. "So I was piecing it all together for me and found what to interpret her as. It came together from there."

As far as the music is concerned, there is no doubt that the gold and platinum-selling RCA recording artist can pull off The Color Purple material, which is crafted by Allee Willis, Brenda Russell and Stephen Bray.

Since winning the Academy Award for her very first film role, Hudson has appeared in a string of films including "Black Nativity," "Sex And The City," "The Secret Life of Bees" and "Winnie Mandela," in which she portrayed the embattled South African political leader. The former Weight Watchers pitchwoman's next film, due out this month, is Spike Lee's "Chiraq."

"I am loving discovering my inner Shug. I think it's been great for me and one of the best things that ever could happen," she said of taking on a different type of role. "I've never been the glamorous girl in any of the characters that I've played. It's refreshing to know that I could do something like this."

So is Jennifer Hudson making room on her mantle for a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a musical yet?

Not so fast.

"I would be honored about that, but I'm here to put in the work and hopefully it can lead me to that. I'm just grateful to be here."

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