Walking down Broadway is always an emotional experience for me. In particular, walking down West 45th Street toward the Minskoff Theatre throws me into a complete internal tornado of memories and tears. I performed on that stage 23 years ago. The Lion King takes residence at The Minskoff now, but from 1992-1993, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat resided there and changed my world.
I was nine years old, attending William F. Halloran Elementary School #22 in Elizabeth, NJ, when our school choir auditioned for the play singing “Bring Him Home,” from Les Miserables. We made the cut, and I embarked upon an amazing journey of homeschooling and professional musical theatre for nearly six months. It changed my life forever. I felt alive on stage. This experience was an open door to my dream career.
Elated and ready for the next musical journey, my heart broke when my parents said, “No.” After high school and prior to entering college, my parents told me theatre was just a hobby— that I needed to focus on a career that will generate a huge salary. I hadn’t been able to find my way back to the Broadway stage since. The joy I had watching Broadway died when I heard “No.” I always think of what could have been. Walking down Broadway, my feelings of fear, pain, and resentment stem from having my dreams deferred. The infamous “No.” from my Haitian parents echoed in my heart, crippling my desire to perform and truly enjoy a Broadway show.
I decided last year to chase down my happy. I promised to say “Yes” to things that have scared or hindered me from being happy. Priority on the list: see Broadway shows. After all these years, I took control and hushed the “No.” My first play of 2016: the incredible, remarkable, and self-reflecting play, The Color Purple.
While walking towards the sea of tourists along Broadway, I kept the “No” at bay and proudly walked to Jacobs Theatre. There was a massive group of people standing in what looks like two separate lines in front of the theatre. I was a bit shocked to see how many white people were in line to see the play, a literary classic among African-Americans. I brushed off my moment of pre-judgment to assume that they were in line to see American Psycho, which was playing next door. To my surprise, the majority of people, who did not look like me, were in fact in line to see The Color Purple. I was shocked because I mentioned the play to some of my white work colleagues, and they did not have any knowledge of the book that was released in 1982, the movie that debuted in 1985, or the play that debuted in 2005 on Broadway.
The crowd was an older group of white people, so it makes sense that they would see this pivotal play. Settled in my seat with my date, I looked around to see the crowd’s diversity: white and black folks sitting next to one another, interracial couples, and gay couples all anxiously waiting for the show to begin. In this theatre, at that very moment, despite my thoughts, we were one. The show began with a church scene; you cannot tell me that everyone in the crowd was not Baptist. They took us to church and had us up on our feet by the end of the first scene. I knew I was in for a remarkable ride, and that this play was going to keep me at the edge of my seat. And it did.
The set was simplistic, yet carried much symbolism in certain scenes. What I loved the most was that the three leading ladies: Cynthia Erivo (Celie), Danielle Brooks (Sofia), and Jennifer Hudson (Shug Avery) were all making their Broadway debuts with this show. Believe me, you couldn’t tell. Danielle, who I know about from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, stunned the crowd with her vocals— I had no idea that she could sing like that. Cynthia sang like she was breathing—so effortless. And Jennifer sang as we all expected her to—in the amazing way that she always has since her breakout performances on American Idol and Dreamgirls. The cast was phenomenal overall.
The play touches upon sexism, racism, gender roles, and in the end taught everyone that self-love and happiness are the most valuable things anyone can own. Overall, it was refreshing to see the audience’s response to certain scenes. There were several standing ovations throughout the play. The longest standing ovation: When Celie took control of her happiness and love for self. This scene gave me life. I was so engulfed with the show, I completely forgot about my fear, the resentment—everything. This scene felt as though it was meant for me. I renewed my love for theatre and realized that I could enjoy Broadway again. The Color Purple successfully helped me dismiss the “No;” take ownership of my happy and return back to my first love of musical theatre. Thank you.
With a newfound confidence and strength, I will continue to walk the streets of Broadway, this time with tears of joy. I may see The Color Purple again when Heather Headley, who is a Broadway veteran (played in Aida), takes over the role of Shug Avery on May 10. Until then, I will continue to hum and sing the catchy songs of this play, and plan the next Broadway show to see. My journey back to Broadway has just begun.
Myrna L. Datilus is the Partnerships Director for Bold. Ms. Datilus has a Masters in Public Relations along with a diverse background of music, theatre, and sales. Her focus is to utilize her personal, academic and professional background in a broader scale. The primary goal is to work with Organizations and Brands that are relative to how the world is shifting technologically.
Myrna loves to sing, dance, meet & mingle with people and have something amazing come to fruition. “I am looking forward to all the BOLD adventures that are to come!”