By Ruth Ferguson, NDG Editor
The Color Purple can be life-changing, that is how Carla Stewart describes the iconic play. Stewart plays the pivotal role of Shug Avery in the Dallas premiere on stage at the Musical Hall in Fair Park through Feb. 4.
Originally from Chicago, but living in New York City now, Stewart knows a little something about life-changing events. Initially, she was happy to be a background singer and perform in community theater in Chicago. However, destiny had a different plan for her. When offered a chance for a bigger role in a local production, Stewart initially declined.
“But she saw something in me and told me, ‘do this or have a nice day,’” Stewart shared. She was nervous but took a chance and has not looked back since.
“I am so grateful she was so adamant about it,” Stewart stated. “It changed my life and my career.”
Later Stewart made the leap to the Big Apple, becoming an AMDA New York graduate. Her career has grown from the National tour of Ghost the Musical where she played Oda Mae Brown, to Dorothy in The Wiz, Joanne in Rent and Nell in Ain’t Misbehavin’.
“I feel like I have graduated every step in my career,” and her graduation was to start out as a church lady in the Broadway production of The Color Purple to playing Olivia. Basically, she went from covering one song and being a person in the crowd to singing three songs in the 2016 Tony winner for Best Musical Revival.
Now Stewart finds herself playing Shug, a role made memorable by Margaret Avery nearly three decades ago in the film directed by Steven Spielberg. However, Stewart did not grow up watching the movie, nor had she read the book before getting the part on Broadway. According to Stewart, she draws more of her inspiration from Alice Walker’s groundbreaking book then the movie, although she appreciates both.
“So much inspiration to so many people,” is what Stewart discovered while performing on Broadway in The Color Purple and receiving feedback from the audience and other castmates.
Stewart believes The Color Purple has a timely message needed just as much in 2018 as ever before with the troubling headlines throughout 2017, spotlighting the seething division that remains in the country.
“Overlooking someone simply based on their appearance,” is one of the parallels Stewart sees to the story and the anger and division voices filling our airwaves. However, the power of the moment when Shug sings the song “I am Here” as she comes to realize she is enough is profoundly moving for Stewart and the audience.
She is hopeful fans will see what Stewart described as the moments of forgiveness despite everything that Mister has done to women in the story. Stewart believes we all will be better when “We move beyond color and get to the heart of who the human is.”
Stewart invites theater fans, “To go on this journey and open your heart to love – it can be life-changing.”
The Color Purple is on stage at Music Hall in Fair Park until Feb. 4 and tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.