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Musical ‘The Color Purple’ comes to Fort Myers’ Lab Theater

Lab Theater's
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It took just one video clip, and Sonya McCarter knew: She was in love.

The video showed Broadway star Cynthia Erivo singing in the 2015 revival of the musical “The Color Purple.”

McCarter was mesmerized.

“I fell in love with the musical — the revival version,” the actor/director says. “I kept hearing so much about Cynthia Erivo, and so I came across a clip and heard her singing.

“It was so beautiful and inspirational and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’d love to either be in the musical ‘The Color Purple’ or direct it.’”

Years later, McCarter finally got her wish. She’s directing the Southwest Florida premiere of the musical’s Broadway revival.

The show opens Friday at The Laboratory Theater of Florida in Fort Myers and continues through Oct. 2.

If you saw the national tour of “The Color Purple” when it visited Naples in 2009, you saw a much different musical than what’s onstage at Lab Theater, McCarter says. The show’s acclaimed 2015 revival improved on the original run and its subsequent 2009 tour. The revival even won two Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical (for Erivo, who played Celie Johnson).

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A scene from Lab Theater's

That’s why McCarter didn’t stray far from the revival for the Lab Theater production. The show was nearly perfect already, she says.

“It is a story about resilience and redemption,” she says. “And those are the things that I want to bring out. It’s an inspirational story. It’s a human story.

“It’s a story of the African-American community throughout our American history, but it’s also a human story. We all have struggles. Everyone has either experienced some form of abuse or knows someone who has and how it’s affected them.”

The musical follows four decades in the life of Celie Johnson, a poor, abused Black woman who learns to find strength and her own identity in the Deep South. It’s based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and the 1985 film adaptation starring Whoopi Goldberg as Celie.

“It takes you on an emotional journey,” says Ruthgena Faraco, who plays Celie in the Lab Theater production. “I think it’s very important for people to watch. It’s very uplifting.

“It is amazing to see how she (Celie) finally finds her voice in a world where they’re always telling her, ‘You’re too ugly.’”

The musical may be set in the early 20th century, but Faraco says it touches on topics that are deeply relevant today. The story deals with identity, hardship, mental health and many other issues people still struggle to overcome.

Lab Theater's

It’s not always easy, Faraco says. Especially for her character, Celie.

“Even in the book or in the movie, she says ‘I don’t know how to fight. I only know how to live,’” Faraco says. “So she never fights for herself until one moment when she’s sick of it. … But it’s such a long process before she even gets to that point.”

Since this is a musical, Celie’s story gets told along with a big dose of music. In this case, it’s some of the most popular genres from the first half of the 20th century.

“The culture of Black music in the most Southern traditions is well represented,” says the show’s music director, W. Earl Sparrow. “There’s blues. There’s, of course, gospel. There are ballads. …

“It’s a hodgepodge of musical styles that our culture has embraced and perfected over the centuries we’ve been in America.”

Although the accompanying music is pre-recorded, Sparrow says they worked hard to make sure the singing onstage is as authentic as possible. Some of the show’s performers are first-time actors who usually only sing in local churches, he says.

“We want to represent from the church to the juke joint,” Sparrow says. “It is all represented. … We were very respectful of the music and the culture and make sure it is 120 percent accurate.”

They worked hard on every other part of the show, too, he says. People love both the book and the movie, and the show’s creative team are well aware of that.

“There’s not many movies where people can say all the lines from beginning to end, and this is one of those,” Sparrow says. “We were very respectful about honoring the tradition of this play and how much it means to African-Americans.

“Whoopi would be proud!”

Connect with this reporter: Email or connect on social media at Charles Runnells (Facebook), @charlesrunnells (Twitter) and @crunnells1 (Instagram).

If you go

What: “The Color Purple”

When: Sept. 3-Oct. 2.

Where: The Laboratory Theater of Florida, 1634 Woodford Ave., downtown Fort Myers.

Tickets: $30-$37

COVID protocols: Masks required inside the theater. Seating is socially distanced for safety.

Info: 218-0481 or

Written By

Avi Adkins is a seasoned journalist with a passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail. With years of experience in the field, Adkins has established himself as a respected figure in journalism.

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