Whether one knows “The Color Purple” from the 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written by Alice Walker, Stephen Spielberg’s 1985 award-winning film, or the 2005 Broadway musical, the story has inspired millions.
In “The Color Purple”, a teenage Celie is torn from her beloved sister and forced into an abusive marriage, and we watch her over the next four decades while she encounters repression, despair and heartbreak, but also discovers hope in a group of friends who inspire her to find her voice, discover her beauty and change her life.
Signature Theatre will be staging a production of the musical, directed by Timothy Douglas, beginning this week through Oct. 9.
The show stars Nova Y. Payton as Celie, Danielle J. Summons as Shug Avery, Frenchie Davis as Sofia, Kaiyla Gross as Nettie, Stephawn P. Stephens as Ol’ Mister/Preacher, Solomon Parker III as Harpo, Tẹmídayọ Amay as Squeak and Torrey Linder as Mister.
For Gross, getting to be part of this production is something special; she not only loves the story, but it also holds a special place in her heart because Celie was her first lead role. She’ll never forget everything she learned during that process.
“I played Celie in college, and it was my second production ever,” she says. “My professor kept calling me ‘Celie’ and I had no idea what he meant until auditions came around the following semester. I remember connecting to Celie in many ways, one being finding out that everything I need is already inside of me. Playing this huge role so early on in my career really helped me start the process of finding myself.”
She saw the movie when she was younger, but didn’t really understand the depth of the piece until she was part of that production, remembering Shug Avery dancing in a beautiful red dress.
When she was cast as Nettie for Signature’s production, she quickly saw the amazing talent she would be working alongside and knew this was an opportunity for her to grow and learn from some of the best in the region.
“These people are a must see. The work was put in to deliver this impactful piece,” Gross says. “I show up, remain present, allow myself to feel every emotion, and then I release it.”
One of her favorite things about the experience has been working with Douglas.
“There are not enough words to say that would even begin to explain how honored and blessed I am to have met this amazing man,” she says. “He pulls things out of me that I didn’t even know I had inside of me. He gives clear direction on what he wants but also allows us to show up as us. He brings so much knowledge and realness to this production. He is always very honest about where he is in the process which allows us to move as a unit through this piece.”
And whether someone is familiar with the piece or not, Gross notes that this is a story everyone should see in this form.
“The artists on the stage, alongside the wonderful production team, have put in tremendous work to produce a heartfelt, emotional piece,” she says. “Nothing beats live theatre. For those that read the book, seeing the show gives a beautiful visual of what was read because of how well it aligns with the book. For those that saw the movie, seeing the show gives you the deeper context of Shug and her relationship with Celie.”
But most of all, she shares, “The Color Purple” is just a beautiful piece, and seeing the show will allow for laughter, tears and inspiration.
“There is power in having oneself centered in God and having the understanding that God is everywhere and in everything, and seeing this production will show just that through Celie,” Gross says. “Lastly, this piece has relevant content that needs to be discussed. It can be used as a learning tool about oneself or how to deal with others who display the content being shown. At the end of the day, the show is amazing. Just come see it. You will not regret it.”