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Actress thrilled to be leading lady in Light Opera Guild's 'The Color Purple'

WANT TO GO?

"The Color Purple"

Presented by Charleston Light Opera Guild

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, May 11-12, 18-19 and 3 p.m. May 13

WHERE: Civic Center Little Theater

TICKETS: $20

INFO: 304-343-2287 or www.charlestonlightoperaguild.orgCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At age 31, Janelle Williams already has had some big roles in Charleston Light Opera Guild productions. She was Bloody Mary in "South Pacific" and Deena, one of the three singers in "Dreamgirls."

But playing Celie in "The Color Purple" is her first leading role since high school.

She'll portray the main character in Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel when the musical opens Friday and runs for the next two weekends at the Civic Center Little Theater. The Guild is the first community theater group in the country to stage "The Color Purple."

Williams wanted the role. She loved the Oscar-nominated movie when she saw it in middle school and first read the novel in an African-American literature class at WVU. She's read the book four times, mostly recently in late January, right after she was cast as Celie.

She wanted to get to know Celie, a poor young woman with low self-esteem living in the rural South abused first by her father and then her husband. "How did she imagine what Africa was like? Where was her quiet place that gave her the strength to keep going?"

Williams asked those questions and others to understand her character's transformation, not only in age over a 40-year span, but also in her beliefs and personality.

In talking about her role, it's obvious that Williams likes Celie and at times forgets she's a fictional character. As a consultant, Williams said she wants to go back in time and advise the young Celie of her worth and beauty.

In the song "I'm Here," an older Celie finally realizes she loves herself for who she really is. "The first time I sang it in front of the cast, I got choked up," said Williams.

She promises that no one will leave a performance of "The Color Purple" without being touched in some way. Some of the messages delivered in the play, she said, are:

 

  • Everybody deserves a second chance
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  • Learning is a life long commitment
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  • Eyes and hearts should be kept open
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  • Learn to listen
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  • Appreciate people for who and how they are.
  •  

    "You'll walk away with a feeling of hope," she said.

    And despite some intense scenes in a play about domestic violence, there are humorous lines, but Williams won't be delivering them this time. Those go to her friend Shayla Leftridge, who's playing the strong-willed Sofia. Leftridge starred as Effie, the lead in "Dreamgirls," after being talked into auditioning by Williams.

    "One of my girlfriends talked me into trying out for 'The Wiz,'" recalled Williams about her first Guild show in 2005. "Tiffany Wesley Plear is a dancer in this show. We performed together in the African Dance and Drum Ensemble [at WVU] and she is my matron of honor when I get married this fall. The Guild is like family."

    So much so that Williams' mother tried out for the show with her. Karen P. Williams is Darlene, one of the "gloating ladies" in her second Guild production. In 2010, for her 30th birthday, Williams asked her mother to audition for "Dreamgirls." She did and was cast in a small part.

    It was her father, John Williams, who gave her the best advice about the theater. Williams said after being active in shows at Capital High School, she considered majoring in theater at WVU. "My father told me, 'Get a day job first and aspire for your dreams after your household is in order.'"

    Williams majored in business administration and is a career development consultant with the SPOKES (Strategic Planning in Occupational Knowledge for Employment and Success) program under RESA III.

    From 2008 to 2010, she served on the Guild's board. She remembers board president Tim Whitner's determination to acquire the rights to "The Color Purple" as soon as they became available. 

    And unlike her character Celie, Williams said her fiancé, Lawrence H.J. Sewell, has been very supportive of her. "He helps me study my lines. He does the voices for all the characters."

    It's all in the family -- figuratively and literally -- when it comes to a Guild show.    

    Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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