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A former American Idol winner proves that casting her as Celie in The Color Purple was more than a publicity stunt.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published August 19, 2007
NEW YORK - After it was announced that Fantasia would take over the lead role in the Broadway musical The Color Purple, she recalls her co-stars as being warm, friendly and supportive. Still, she knew they had doubts about her casting.
Perhaps for good reason. The third-season American Idol champ was taking over for LaChanze, who won a Tony for her portrayal of the downtrodden Celie, and the 23-year-old's acting experience had been limited to a saccharine Lifetime TV biopic in which she played herself.
And then there was the celebrity factor that has permeated Broadway in recent years. Usher, Brooke Shields, Deborah Gibson and other assorted A- to D-listers have been cast in stagnant productions to boost the box office.
"A lot of times they give us hard times, and they say, 'They're bringing in such-and-such on Broadway just to bring in money because they probably ain't gonna do so good because they haven't been acting all their life,' " Fantasia says.
That made her even more determined.
"I was like, 'I have to go in here and do my best for them. It's not only me, but it's a whole cast who's been doing it for two years, and I have to hold the show up so that we will have a good show,'" she says.
Since her arrival in April, she has done more than hold up the show. She's revitalized it. Fantasia has received rave reviews, boosted a box office that had started to slump and, some say, improved a successful commercial production that was lacking critically.
"I think she's clearly given the show a new burst of energy that everyone is enjoying the benefit of," says Scott Sanders, one of the show's producers.
But it's taking its toll on Fantasia. A few hours before show time, clad in sweats, she lounges in her midtown apartment, looking weary, far from her usual animated, gregarious self. As she walks around gingerly, she blurts out: "This show is kicking my butt!"
After curtain calls and on her days off, she sleeps, sleeps and sleeps. She performs eight times a week and is onstage almost the entire production.
"I ain't never heard the sleep word so much in my life until I got on Broadway," she says, laughing. "I'm so tired - mentally tired, physically tired."
The content of the show has also drained her.
"Miss Celie takes a lot of out of me," Fantasia says between bites of a light lunch. "I'm being told every day that I'm ugly. ... You can't play the part if you don't kind of put yourself in her shoes and live her life. So, it's like, I carry that stuff with me."
Fantasia has done so well that the producers talked her into extending her engagement by four months, until January. But she hesitated before signing: Not only is she drained, but she worried about taking more time away from her recording career. (But being on Broadway hasn't hurt her record sales. She has the No. 1 song on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart, When I See You.)
It wasn't until she talked with Oprah Winfrey, one of the show's producers, that she began to warm to the idea of playing Celie a bit longer.
"She just began to tell me how much I touched her and all the things that she felt," Fantasia says.