Seeing The Color Purple

It's going to be a sell-out!  That's the word around town about the upcoming live, theatrical production of Alice Walker's The Color Purple.  Ruth Eckerd Hall, in Clearwater, expects to welcome nearly 17,000 guests over six days,  Nov. 24-29, for this historical, buzz-worthy show presented by Oprah Winfrey.

The literary work, which is a tale of abuse, love, forgiveness and self-actualization, faced opposition and caused controversy upon its release in 1982. The novel later earned Alice Walker a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and an Academy Award Nomination from the film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1985.

Ruth Eckerd Hall has been preparing, along with nearly 100 local crew members and staff, for this premiere for more than a year.

Tampa-based Writer Keisha Pickett, chats with leading cast member Kenita Miller, who plays Ms. Celie.  

KP:  When did you realize that you wanted to seriously pursue theatrical singing?

KM: I would go to see musicals as a teen and although I loved it, I was still a little hesitant to pursue it.  It was actually my teachers who really saw the talent and pushed me to go further. 

KP:  Did you sing to your family and friends growing up?

KM: Oh yes! I demanded attention!  My parents were very supportive of me.  They've always had my back.  If I had an interest in it, they turned it into a reality for me. 

KP: You recently went back to your Penfield High School (Rochester, NY) alma mater to speak to the theater students.  How did it go?

KM: It was an amazing experience.  I think it's so important that we feed the seedlings of our future with motivation and encouragement.  

So it was like giving back to the youth?

KM: I honestly don't view it as giving back, simply because I learned and received so much from the students.  It was surreal and very filling for me.  It was also very humbling.  

  You also had the honor of presenting this theatrical work for the first time in your home city.

KM: Yes, yes!  Of course, my immediate family had already traveled to New York City to see the show on Broadway. Now my extended family was able to see the show, as well.  It was a very proud moment for me to have all of my family and long-time friends there supporting me.   

  You've starred in Broadway's Xanadu and off Broadway's Dessa Rose and Ragtime.  Now you are the leading character in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, a classic literary work presented by none other than Ms. Oprah Winfrey.  Tell me how this role compares to others you've encountered?

KM: This role is very soulful.  Playing "Celie" is healing and provides food for my humanity.  I don't feel like I am playing a stereotype.  I am a human being and I get the chance to reveal a new layer every night.  

How does it feel to be a part of this cast and historical production?

KM: It's incredible.  I never thought that I'd be here. I have so much respect for Alice Walker's work. This production takes you on a journey each night and it's very uplifting and challenging, at the same time.  It's truly a blessing to be able to retell this story; and I hope that I am as honest and truthful as possible, each time I get on that stage.  

  How is it working with Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Alice Walker?

KM: Words can't express the joy.  It's so empowering to work under such dynamic women.  I feel like God is saying, "This is your potential."  If I can work under them, I can be as dynamic as they are.  

  What impact has this role had on you as an actress and as a person?

KM: It has made me want to be the best woman that I can be.  All women can take something from this universal story. This storyline touches all races and leaves an impression with everyone.      

This interview was condensed for publication.

Keisha Pickett of Tampa, owner of Pickett Public Relations Group and Black in the Bay, loves live music and comedy, and enjoys meeting positive, ambitious people. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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