Stage & Dance

'Color Purple': Actress has waited years for chance to play her dream role

From left: Taprena Augustine (Shug Avery), Pam Trotter (Sofia) and Allison Semmes (Squeak) star in the musical The Color Purple.
From left: Taprena Augustine (Shug Avery), Pam Trotter (Sofia) and Allison Semmes (Squeak) star in the musical The Color Purple.

The woman at the stage door couldn't speak.

"She was in tears at least 20 minutes after the show," says Pam Trotter, who plays Sofia in the national tour of The Color Purple, which comes to the Lexington Opera House this weekend. "I was talking to her, and she just kept crying. I had to give her a hug, and it made me tear up."

Trotter knew how the woman, at a Memphis performance, felt.

Since the first time she saw Steven Spielberg's big-screen adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, she has felt a close kinship with the story about Celie, a black woman in early 1900s rural Georgia who overcomes oppression and violence to attain independence and happiness.

"I fell in love with the story of one woman's journey to find herself as well as love, and why she had gone through what she went through, and then the victory of the outcome of her life," Trotter says.

Sofia is the character who wakes Celie up to the notion that she does not have to submit to her brutal husband, called Mister. It's the character Trotter always wanted to play.

"Myself and some friends used to imitate the movie, play it out scene by scene for each other," Trotter says. "I would imitate Sofia a lot. She was just strong, and she didn't take no and did what she wanted to do. I'm a big woman, and she was a big woman who was kind of a no-nonsense woman."

When the original Broadway version of the book began production in 2005, Trotter auditioned for the show being backed by the original Sofia herself, Oprah Winfrey.

She didn't get the part.

"I would have loved the opportunity for her to choose me, but I guess it wasn't my time, years ago," Trotter says. "In my heart, I felt like I was Sofia, and now, I've grown into it."

The original Broadway Sofia, Felicia P. Fields, earned a Tony Award nomination for her performance, one of 11 Tony nominations for the show that ran for 910 performances from 2005 to 2008.

When the tour auditions came around, it was not surprising that Trotter was already "off book," meaning she had already memorized all the lines.

Since being in the show, Trotter has gained some perspective on what sets the Broadway musical version apart from the page and screen renditions, in addition to the fact that people spontaneously break into song in the musical.

"On stage, we have to control our emotions, because we can get so wrapped up in it," Trotter says. "You want to be able to get through it, so the audience is with us as well. And they are.

"You can really live this story when you watch it, on stage. You're there. You are really a part of this journey from beginning to end, from the prayer to the rejoicing."

That's all the more reason for some people to emerge from the show in tears.