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The Color Purple' has inspired generations to speak up

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Felicia Fields captured the attention of many theatergoers long before "The Color Purple" became a popular musical. But her portrayal of Sofia in the musical based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has brought this Chicago native out of her hometown to New York City and across the country as part of the Broadway cast and now the national touring production.

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UNLIKE REAL LIFE

The tour stops in Oklahoma City for a series of performances, which continue today through Sunday at the Civic Center Music Hall.

And her performance of the role, which was played by Oprah Winfrey in the Steven Spielberg-directed film, is considered show-stopping by many "? and has been given a thumbs-up by the daytime talk show queen and magazine mogul. It even landed her a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Fields takes all the hoopla in stride.

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Part of the production since the get-go"? she was tapped as the perfect Sofia by soon-to-be-Purple-director Gary Griffin even before a musical had been conceived "? she said Winfrey's endorsement of the show has boosted the success of this musical, whose themes of domestic and sexual abuse don't neatly translate into what would be traditionally considered crowd-pleasing theater fare.

"I definitely didn't think it would be as big of a success as it is until 'The O' (Oprah Winfrey) came on board and I think that lifted it to a whole new level for all of us," she said. "It's beautiful being a part of the beginning stages of it because you see so much of the work that went on. It's like a part of history.

"It's told through the eyes of an African-American cast and there are very few musical theater pieces that are that way. Being a part of the beginning means I saw what was cut, what was rearranged, the different characters in workshops "? it really has been an amazing journey for me."

For the actors involved, Fields said, the piece is special in another way: namely that it has a tremendous impact on those who have suffered abuse. The fact that so many of the Broadway cast is in the national tour could be attributed to how special this show is to those involved.

"This is not your typical musical theater; it really has a spiritual meaning. Every one of us who were a part of it in the beginning felt like we were really contributing to people's lives and the hope of people's lives," she said. "You have a lineage of men who believe that women should be subservient and they beat them if they don't do what they're 'supposed to do.' When you have a hardheaded character (like Sofia) who doesn't know how to keep her mouth shut and accept things, it's inspirational."

UNLIKE REAL LIFE
Fields added that the characters and situations in the show are not unlike real life; she said all of us know "the woman who is afraid to speak out for herself and take initiative because she's afraid of her husband" or the "woman whose father excommunicates her from church and from his home because she has become worldly."

"These things happen to people and they don't just happen to African Americans. It's a story told through African Americans' eyes, but it's a story nonetheless that addresses people all over the world and all generations," she said.

"It doesn't matter who you are, you will take something away from this show. I have had women come to me after the show who have been beaten and they want to say, 'Hell no, I'm not taking it,'" Fields said, referring to one of Sofia's popular songs, "Hell No," in the musical. "There's something unique about this piece where you have to address it, you can't skim over the material. You learn early on that people are paying attention and people are changing their lives according to what you're saying on stage."  "?Deborah Benjamin

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