'Color Purple' at Forrest Theatre: Trenton Central High alum follows in Oprah's steps

Carrie Compere (center) and the cast of “The Color Purple,” Dec. 12-17 at the Forrest Theatre.

The national tour of The Color Purple is here Tuesday through Sunday, at the Forrest Theatre.

A lot of people love Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer-winning book. Even more know and love the 1985 Steven Spielberg movie. And since its 2005 Broadway birth, the musical has become a favorite for thousands more.

Which means, if you’re in it, you’re facing a load of expectations.

Trenton Central High School alum Carrie Compere plays Sofia. “Yeah, it’s the iconic Oprah Winfrey role everybody knows from the movie,” she said in a phone call Monday. “I mean, people really know it. On our performance last night in Hartford, a woman shouted from the crowd, ‘All right, Oprah!’

“There’s a lot of expectations associated with it, big shoes to fill. I’ll take it all on, and gladly.”

The trick, Compere said, is to be her own Sofia. “People feel they know who Sofia is from the movie, so when they see the show, for me, it’s not necessarily a matter of being absolutely faithful to that, but exploring who she is in this show, in which the story is connected more to the book than to the movie.”

How so?

Where the movie was a glossy production number, this Color Purple is stripped down, she said. Director John Doyle “wanted to get back to the story, shine the spotlight on the words and music. He has made it more intimate, more tangible. It’s not about lights, glitter. You have to use your imagination.”

Walker attended the troupe’s Broadway rehearsals. “She’s so divine,” Compere said. “She sat there, she was quiet while we did our run-through. She expressed to us at the end how proud she was of the work we were doing.

“I was thinking, ‘You’re the author. It’s like talking to God: If you say it’s right, it must be right.’ She was so uplifted about it. That meant everything. You can’t beat that.”

Compere-as-Sofia gets to sing “Hell No.”

“It needs to be the theme song for 2017,” she said, “with this sexual abuse and these improper activities going on.” In that tune, Sofia has just had a terrible encounter with her husband, and she lets the world know it’s not right for anyone to put his hands on you without permission.

“She’s not only standing up for herself but also for women and children everywhere,” Compere said, “really, for everybody. She’s saying, ‘No, this is not right, and I have every right to say it.’ ”

As you might expect, the song brings down the roof every night.


The Color Purple

    • Dec. 12-17, Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street.

    • Tickets: $62-$177.