The Color Purple shatters the stereotypes says star as show heads to Manchester

The cast of The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)
The cast of The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

ANELISA Lamola is no stranger to the musical The Color Purple which is heading to The Lowry for the first time next month.

But three years after being part of the initial production at Leicester's Curve Theatre she admits that the show still has the power to surprise her every night.

Initially Anelisa was a member of the ensemble and began the show as the church soloist, belting out one of the show's many stand-out numbers Mysterious Ways.

For the show's first full UK tour she has retained the soloist role but has also got the chance to play one of the main characters, Sophia, a strong-willed, independent woman who won't be anyone's fool.

"What I didn't quite appreciate was how much of a difference it was going to be having two roles," she said. "Because I'd done the church soloist role before I knew what to expect with that. It's an amazing opportunity because you have this massive gospel number to start the show and you can just lose yourself in it. It is very refreshing to be able to do a show where you can artistically contribute."

The Color Purple is based on the Pullitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker, the story of a young African American teenager who endures hardship, prejudice and abuse and her refusal to be bowed by her circumstances as she grows up. The book was made into a film by Steven Spielberg starring Whoopi Goldberg.

To take on the role of Sophia, Anelisa has used the inspiration of her own mum who grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era.

Anelisa Lamola (Sofia) in The Color Purple
          (Picture: Manuel Harlan)
Anelisa Lamola (Sofia) in The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

Anelisa Lamola (Sofia) in The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

"I still sometimes think how did she achieve all of these things that she did in a time that was saying no to her?" she said. "I have taken a lot of that into creating my version of Sophia. Sophia is a trailblazer. She was as ahead of her time and I've been able to connect that to my life which has been incredible."

Anelisa admits that Sophia is very different from her own character.

"Oh she's tough," she laughed. "She's very much like 'what, you're going to hit me? No, that's not going to happen" whereas if it was me, I'd just want to cry. It's been very emotional to be part of this story and that in itself has been a challenge for me - to keep on focus and not get too emotionally involved."

One way she has achieved that is by creating a bit of space as she prepares to come on stage.

"Once I've got the opening number out of the way I have to go back to my dressing room and get myself ready to be Sophia," she said. You need a lot of discipline to separate things. The moment I start to intertwine them it'll start to hurt.

The Color Purple has a special impact on the audience too.

"This wonderful piece takes you on a journey," she said. "!t will open up wounds but it will also heal you and put you back together again. It doesn't leave you broken. It will make you think but you will have had redemption as well, it has a message of hope."

At the heart of the show are the musical numbers which range from gospel to jazz and soul to blues.

"The songs are beautiful, I can't wait for people to hear them" said Anelisa.

Karen Mavundukure (Doris), Esme Laudat (Jarene) and Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah (Darlene) in The Color Purple                                              (Picture: Manuel Harlan)
Karen Mavundukure (Doris), Esme Laudat (Jarene) and Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah (Darlene) in The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

Karen Mavundukure (Doris), Esme Laudat (Jarene) and Rosemary Annabella Nkrumah (Darlene) in The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

Although the book was written almost 40 years ago, The Color Purple is particularly relevant today.

"It's a story that really still exists today. It's actually really sad that it would be relevant in 2022 but that's why it is such a timely piece. It's a story that a lot of people can relate to whether you are black or white; whatever or wherever you come from or whether you are queer or straight."

With its all black cast The Color Purple makes a very strong statement.

"Even if we moved into a world where we had a very diverse cast, I still think the biggest thing is that we are telling a black woman's story as seen through her lens and not through how everybody wants to see black women.

"We are seeing a black woman as human being and not a character. There's something very empowering to say 'hang on this black woman who is going through these things is vulnerable sometimes, she is happy, she is sexy, she is beautiful'.

Jimand Allotey (Squeak) and Ahmed Hamad (Harpo)  in The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)
Jimand Allotey (Squeak) and Ahmed Hamad (Harpo) in The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

Jimand Allotey (Squeak) and Ahmed Hamad (Harpo) in The Color Purple (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

"You get to see all the beautiful attributes that black women have This for me is so empowering. I don't have to be in a room and be a stereotype of myself. I can just be myself."

If Anelisa's name rings a bell people might remember her from the X Factor - she appeared on the show in 2007 and 2016.

Now she's an established musical performer having appeared in The Wiz at Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre last year. She has also play The Lowry before appearing in a tour of Some Like It Hip Hop.

But perhaps her greatest success - certainly if you are under the age of five - is that she is the voice of Mrs Weaver in the cartoon series Hey Duggee.

"Yes, that's me," she grinned. "The trouble is that even my friends' kids don't believe it but I have so much fun doing that. Mrs Beaver has become the pop star of Hey Duggee. She's got a song about everything."

The Color Purple, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, October 11 to Saturday, October 15. Details from www.thelowry com