Published: January 25, 2009
Oprah Winfrey can be a tough act to follow.
Few people know that better than Felicia Fields, a Chicago-based actress who performs the role of Sofia in the stage musical version of "The Color Purple.” It was Winfrey who brought the feisty, no-nonsense character of Sofia to life in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film, a performance that earned her an Academy Award nomination.
"With any acting roles, there are certain challenges you face,” Fields said recently. "With this role, Oprah Winfrey was one of them. But the character of Sofia was very easy for me to get my chops around.
"My mother, in fact, will tell you that I am Sofia.”
Fields earned a Tony Award nomination for her performance as Sofia during the musical’s Broadway run, from December 2005 to February 2008. When the first national tour was launched last May, Fields signed on to play Sofia again. The popular musical comes to the Civic Center Music Hall this week for eight performances.
Set in rural Georgia in the first half of the 20th century, "The Color Purple” explores one woman’s four-decade journey from degradation and submission to self-sufficiency and independence. Celie is raped by her stepfather and bears him two children who are given away. She then endures years of physical and mental abuse in a loveless marriage.
"This is a story with a lot of depth, and though it tackles many controversial subjects, I don’t think anyone who goes into the theater doesn’t come out with a new perspective on things,” Fields said.
"These are everyday people who are dealing with extraordinary circumstances.
"Many of the characters in ‘The Color Purple’ only know one way to behave.
Mister is a product of his father, which means his father was also domineering and abusive.
Mister’s son Harpo, who is married to Sofia, tries to break that cycle. He finally takes a stand, and it’s a very heroic thing to watch.”
Of all the female characters who inhabit "The Color Purple,” Sofia has become an iconic figure, thanks in large part to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker’s vivid characterization.
Sofia’s uncompromising attitude is a source of towering strength, but it also contributes to her being jailed following one of the story’s most memorable confrontations.
"Sofia is not your normal female, particularly for the era in which the story is set,” Fields said.
"It’s through her resiliency that Celie learns she doesn’t have to accept certain things, that she can survive these challenges. It’s been very interesting to see how audiences react to her.
"A lot of women who come to the stage door following the performance, some of which are also products of abuse, thank us for personalizing this issue. I’m still doing the show because I believe theater should make a difference in people’s lives.
"This show seems to resonate with many people, and I’m convinced by what I’ve been told that it’s a life-changing experience for audiences.”
"The confidence which we have in ourselves gives birth to much of that which we have in others." - François de La Rochefoucauld