DIVA TALK: Chatting With Shida and Color Purple Star Jeannette Bayardelle

By Andrew Gans
09 Aug 2013

Angela Robinson and Jeannette Bayardelle in The Color Purple.
Photo by Paul Kolnik

Question: What was that like once you got to perform that role eight times a week?
Bayardelle: Actually, that was so much easier than having to know 11 different parts! [Laughs.] I’m like, "Wow, I can stick to one show. This is beautiful, this is easy now!"

Question: How do you even go about learning 11 parts? I’m always amazed by the swings, who cover all those roles.
Bayardelle: You know what? I learn it as one big song. [Laughs.] It’s just a long song that never ends. But I tell you, that experience really prepared me for where I am now and, of course, it influenced how I wrote this musical that I’m doing now, Shida, and how I perform it, and how I'm able to go from one character to the next character. I feel like The Color Purple was my classroom. It was better than going to Harvard!

Question: How did this one-woman show come about?
Bayardelle: I wrote it out of frustration. I was in Hair on Broadway, and we were getting ready to close, and I had a meeting with my agent, and I was waiting in the lobby. While I was waiting, I just started to get frustrated and feeling like I didn't like depending on people to dictate my future, waiting for the next part, waiting for someone to write the next part…and I just had this idea [that] I need to write something that fits me, a story that I want to tell, and I felt like there was more that I could contribute to the industry than just singing and acting. And, immediately, I came up with the idea of writing a musical, and I [thought] I should do it on my childhood best friend, who had a really interesting story about being a bright girl growing up in the Bronx and wanting to do amazing things with her life, but she fell on hard times and she ended up on hard drugs. And, I said, "Wow, I need to tell her story because I believe that her story will help other people and inspire other people." We all know somebody that deals with addiction or depression, or somebody who just doesn’t want to live anymore. But I thought telling her story would help other people on their path back to purpose.

Question: Is her first name the name of the show?
Bayardelle: Her name is Rashida, and her mother, who is in the show as well—well, I play her mother as well—her mother used to call her Shida.

Question: Has her family come to see the show?
Bayardelle: Yes, they did, they came to one of the earliest showings that we did three years ago at Birdland. They came, and it was difficult. The first time she saw it, she wanted a private hearing because she didn’t want people around, and she wanted to live every moment and express herself the way she wanted to express herself without having people watch her. I remember we did it in a rehearsal space, and she had her tissue out, and she just cried the whole show. And, afterward she came up to me, she just pulled me aside, and said, "Thank you – thank you for helping me to not be ashamed of the things that took place in my life."

Question: What is her life like today?
Bayardelle: Her life is wonderful today. She’s actually expecting a baby, and she’s happy about the success of the show and how people come and love the show. She's just really thrilled, and I’m just really happy to see her on that path, the path of purpose.