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Brandon Victor Dixon stars as Harpo in The Color Purple. Photo: Fox Theatre
By Donald V. Calamia
When The Color Purple returns to Detroit's Fox Theatre April 14, one of its original Broadway stars will step into the role that earned him a Tony Award nomination. Brandon Victor Dixon, named by Gotham magazine as one of New York's hottest bachelors of 2007, talks with EncoreMichigan.com about the show and the process of creating the character of Harpo.
You originated the role of Harpo in the original Broadway production of The Color Purple - and were nominated for a 2006 Tony Award for your work. How much fun was it to create a character that had never appeared on stage before? And how intimidating was it, given that many theatergoers were already familiar with both the book and the movie?
It was a great privilege to be able to create an original character. I didn't find it intimidating, really, because when starting to create an original work you can focus only on the material itself. When you begin to question choices based on what people may or may not think or what people may or may not have seen, you begin to compromise the work.
Were you able to talk with author Alice Walker about the character while the show was in rehearsal? If so, did that help you shape your performance? And how much leeway did Gary Griffin, the director, give you to interpret the character?
Alice was involved in the development of the show, but while in the rehearsal room, she trusted us to approach her work with honesty and integrity. Just as well, Gary and the creative team managed to hire performers that were talented enough to find, and evolve our characters together as opposed to being told what to do.
You've been away from the show for a while now. Why come back? What is it about The Color Purple that has drawn you back into the fold - and the same role - even for such a short time?
In all honesty, I simply had the time and they asked me to come help out for a while. I love everyone I built the show with, and so it's my pleasure to come provide what support I can for a time.
Prior to The Color Purple, you created the role of the adult Simba in the Cheetah National Tour of The Lion King - which interrupted your studies at Columbia University. But you went back while performing eight times a week in The Color Purple (and the occasional appearance on the daytime drama One Life to Live) and completed your degree. With two major roles already under your belt, what made you decide to finish your senior year and earn the sheepskin? And how did you survive that grueling schedule?
It was very difficult, but I promised my father when I left school that I would return and finish, so I did. It was that simple.
How long are you planning to stay with The Color Purple? What else do you have lined up in the near future?
I will be with the show until June 22, at which point I will return to New York to continue developing my new musical about the life of Ray Charle, called Brother Ray: The Life, the Love, the Music of Ray Charles that we are bringing to Broadway next season
Since working on The Color Purple, do people often ask you to dish some dirt on Oprah Winfrey, one of the show's producers? (And do you have anything worth dishing?)
People ask if she's been around and how involved she is, to which I can only respond with, yes, she's certainly around. But clearly she's a very busy woman, and so she can't be with us all the time. I know now as ever, The Color Purple remains close to her heart.
And, I hope after seeing the show, that everyone else will hold the show close to their heart as well.
ABOUT BRANDON VICTOR DIXON
Brandon Victor Dixon is pleased to rejoin his Color Purple family, if only for a short time. Broadway credits: The Color Purple, Harpo (Tony Nomination); City Center Encores! House of Flowers, Royal; The Lion King, Cheetah National Tour, Adult Simba (original). Regional credits: Ray Charles Live!, Ray Charles (Ovation Nomination); Henry V; Guys and Dolls; Romeo and Juliet; How to Succeed in Business...; Columbia University's 107th Annual Varsity Show; as well as numerous other productions. TV: Quincy Jones's America's Millennium; ABC's One Life to Live, Darryl (recurring); Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Dix (feature).
"The Color Purple" returns by popular demand to the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. April 14 - April 19. $29.50-$75. 313-471-6611. www.olympiaentertainment.com. CLICK HERE for more show details
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