Fantasia on the eye-opening experience of starring in 'The Color Purple'
“I would seem to walk off the stage, with her still hanging on my back or going home with me. It was different. It was hard. It was scary. It was weird. I’d call my mom sometimes, ‘Mom, what’s going on?’ — and she would ask, ‘Do I need to come?’ ”
When the play’s producer approached her in 2006 about playing the lead, Miss Celie, in a musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, of course, she wanted to do it. But the young single mother had no idea what she was getting herself into — the hours of rehearsals and daily shows plus the challenges of living away from her family, especially her young daughter.
All of that turned out to be the easy part.
Fantasia was only 19 when she was crowned America’s “Idol” and hadn’t yet turned 23 when she began playing the troubled but strong-willed Miss Celie in 2007. Fantasia had grown up singing in church in North Carolina, but had never trained for musical theater and knew little about show business. She approached the role emotionally and instinctively, much in the way, she says, she leads her life.
But living in Miss Celie’s skin took its toll.
“When I played Celie in New York, it was me stepping into a whole other life that I wasn’t prepared for or prepped for,” she said during an interview in December in Los Angeles. “All of a sudden, I knew what Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry were talking about in interviews I’ve seen. I just took on this role and I never knew how to release it or let it go. I was stepping in her shoes and being told I’m ugly every day and working in the field. And not to mention I had a lot of problems in Fantasia’s world — my accountants, my lawyer, my management wasn’t right. So here you are playing this role and her life isn’t peaches and cream, and then you get off stage and yours ain’t either. That’s a heavy load.”
Fantasia’s life was far from “peaches and cream” at the time. She had cut ties with 19 Entertainment, and fired two managers and three lawyers in a period of two years. Her former accountant, she said, failed to pay her taxes, which almost resulted in a foreclosure on her $1.3-millionhome in Charlotte, N.C. Then the New York Post reported she had missed 50 shows of “The Color Purple,” a figure she disputes.
“Toward the end of ‘The Color Purple,’ I was getting very sick and didn’t know it,” she said. “I would be dead, dead tired and very weak and sometimes dehydrated and no one knew what was going on. I would sweat a lot. Eventually, I went to the best doctor in L.A. and I had two tumors on top of each other down my throat, which were cutting off my breathing. I was busting blood vessels, which was why I tasted blood all the time. So now you have this thing of Fantasia missing 50 shows and it was more like a handful. I don’t think they’d ask me to come back if I missed that many shows.”
After she had surgery in 2008 and her health improved, Fantasia began studying for her GED and recording her third album. She is currently starring in the VH1 reality show “Fantasia for Real.” She also decided to tour with “The Color Purple” around the country.
“By me living with [Celie] and getting to know her — her life was not peaches and cream in the beginning but in the end, oh my God, she comes out very strong,” Fantasia said. “She appreciated little things and that taught me something. All those sleepless nights and all those nights when I couldn’t really find out who I was anymore, when I couldn’t tap back into Fantasia, I was mad about that. But now I am so thankful for that. So thankful.”
Fantasia says she will say goodbye to Miss Celie on the Pantages stage on Feb. 28 to concentrate on completing and then promoting her third album.
“I’m probably gonna cry like a baby,” she said. “I’ll be very sad. But who knows? I might be doing the movie.”-- Maria Elena Fernandez (follow me on Twitter @writerchica)
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