The Color Purple returned to Broadway in December to rave reviews. While Jennifer Hudson and Orange Is the New Black‘s Danielle Brooks bring star-power and excellent performances to the characters Shug and Sofia respectively, it’s the show’s star Cynthia Erivo, a British actress making her Broadway debut as Celie, that steals the entire show with her booming voice and vulnerable delivery of the main character. Listen to her powerhouse performance of the musical’s anthemic “I’m Here” below and watch a behind-the-scenes clip of Erivo in the studio recording the cast album — out via digital retailers this Friday — above.
Erivo first began portraying Celie in 2013 during the West End production, which was largely transferred over to Broadway except for the cast. “The first time I sang the song in London, [director John Doyle] had me rehearsing it by myself in the room with just him, so there’s a privacy to get through the song and find my way through it so it’s not much harder to do in front of an audience,” Erivo recalls of singing “I’m Here” in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Once I finished the song, at first I was in tears. That’s the thing we have to get over because the song is hard to get through, especially if you’re having one of those emotional days and your feelings are right at your fingertips.”
The emotional track is a cathartic moment in the show for Celie, whose character has grown up over the course of the musical. “I feel super proud to be able to sing that song because I feel like it’s not specifically just for me,” Erivo says. “I feel like it’s for all people who need a moment to check in with themselves and realize that they themselves are OK, and they don’t need many things to make them OK. I feel like that isn’t specifically just for Celie; I think that she sings it for everyone else as well.”
Within weeks of the show premiering, Erivo received a blessing from Whoopi Goldberg, the actress who transformed Celie into an iconic character on screen in the 1985 Steven Spielberg film adaptation. While Erivo had previously portrayed Goldberg’s iconic Sister Act character Sister Mary Clarence in the UK tour of that musical, the two had not met until the Oscar-winning actress stopped by the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. “It was one of those surreal moments when you meet someone whose career you’ve — by accident —followed,” Erivo explains. “It was like seeing a mirror. It was just wonderful to meet her and talk to her and hear her thoughts on it, and then she went and raved on The View. She sent us roses and a wonderful note, which I guess I’m going to keep for the rest of my life, really and truly.”