a local gem on a broadway scale

by liltera r. williams
Oprah Winfrey’s The Color Purple Musical, presented by the Artist Series, will be performed in the Times-Union Center’s Moran Theatre November 17- 22 for eight shows only. The national tour features Jacksonville’s own Angela Robinson playing the role of Shug Avery, the outgoing, free-spirited character created in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Robinson has been an original member of The Color Purple Musical cast for the past five years. After an initial audition and a series of six callbacks, she was offered a position as an understudy. A year and a half later, she gained the role and has been on the national tour for the past two years.
Robinson prepared for the role by studying elements of Shug’s character closely, constantly practicing and perfecting her dialect and behavior. She describes herself as a bit more conservative than Shug and therefore had to work on being more outward with her sexuality. Robinson made a conscious effort not to watch the movie again for fear of copying something that had already been done. She wanted to create her own version and to equip herself for the role, she states, “I just read the book and tried to bring the life out of this beautiful character that Alice Walker wrote in the best honest and truthful way that I could.”
Robinson claims that there is no real difference between the novel, the movie and the musical, indicating that the novel is the base while the movie and the musical are mere interpretations of it. The musical features all new music and composers and she guarantees that you won’t hear any of the songs made famous by the movie. However, one major portion of the musical that differs from the novel and the movie is the focus on the redemptive quality of Mister. Robinson believes that the musical is more true to the novel, because it concentrates more on the theme of love which is remarkably showcased within the mixture of dialogue and song.
Robinson was born and raised in Jacksonville and attended William M. Raines High School. Heavily influenced by her music teacher, Mr. Young, who unknowingly inspired her to go after her dreams, she decided to pursue a career in theatre despite the lack of support for the arts. When she went off to college at Florida A&M University, her parents were adamant about her getting a degree in a separate field, so she decided to study Sociology while still finding time to take as many theatre classes as possible. Robinson’s first audition landed her a leading role in the theatrical production of Bubbling Brown Sugar and from then on she knew it was something she would do for the rest of her life. She recalls a more defining moment at the age of 10, while tagging along with her mother, former head of the drama department at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (before it was an arts school), who was directing a production of Bye Bye Birdie at the time. “I watched it everyday at rehearsal, listened to the soundtrack every night and I knew that I could not live my life without doing musical theatre. I had no idea I could make a living doing it but I knew that I wanted it to be a part of my life from that point on.” Robinson’s mother still resides in Jacksonville and she makes it a habit to come back to visit every three weeks.
When it comes to the current state of the arts in Jacksonville, Robinson believes we still have a ways to go. She strongly urges our community to support and nurture local theatre so that artists can grow and hone their skills before moving to other major cities. “There are so many local opportunities that I think we need to nurture and help fund and support because that’s where our young artists are starting out,” she says. She also expressed her sadness concerning the recent closing of the Alhambra Dinner Theatre, where she got her start as well as her equity card and encourages others to do whatever they can to save it.
Angela Robinson considers herself a true artist in all aspects, boldly declaring, “My goal was never to be famous or to make a million dollars. Theatre is my heart; it is where my passion is. I’ve wanted to do it since I was 10 years old. I’m living what I’ve always wanted to do.” Robinson as well as her fellow native Broadway actors, Daniel Breaker and Darryl Reuben Hall, have gone on to prove that talented artists can come from Jacksonville and still maintain a close connection with where they are from.