When Jayme-Lee Hanekom stepped out onto the stage at Melbourne’s Chapel Off Chapel in the Australasian premiere of The Color Purple, she knew there was huge sense of excitement and anticipation amongst the audience.
“There’s so much hype around it. We’ve never really done a show that’s still on Broadway. Usually the hype has died down, but there’s so much hype and buzz about it (StageArt’s production),” commented Hanekom.
It’s not the first musical for Jayme-Lee Hanekom, who also appeared in Disney’s The Lion King and StageArt’s In the Heights. However, in The Color Purple, Hanekom takes on the leading role of Celie. It’s a huge role.
“It has a lot of big numbers so you have to be at the top of your game.”
Hanekom has two role models in the musical theatre world she looks to for inspiration: Jemma Rix and Cynthia Erivo. Erivo won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Celie in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple.
“I can’t look past Cynthia Erivo. Watching her is just a dream. She’s so humble … that’s what I’ve been brought up to be, because this show business stuff can get to you,” said Hanekom, who explained she wants to remain thankful and grateful for this opportunity and present her performance as a gift for others to experience.
To prepare for the role of Celie, Hanekom spent a lot of time researching the era, reading novels and watching movies – and changing her posture.
“I’m a dancer, so learning to sit slouched is really hard!” laughed Hanekom.
A vocal coach helped the cast to perfect their accents. Hanekom acknowledged they had to be careful not to talk too fast to ensure all the dialogue would be clearly heard.
The Color Purple was a show that many theatre lovers never expected to see produced professionally in Australia, due to the required ethnicity of the cast. StageArt have pulled together an incredible, all-Australian cast.
“It actually surprised me how many people turned up for auditions. I was nervous, because normally when you go to auditions there isn’t many other coloured people and you think, ‘Where are they?’” said Hanekom.
Hanekom said the cast immediately felt like family and added that everyone is perfect for their role.
“Everyone can sing. It’s the most beautiful thing listening to everyone sing together and their solo roles.”
Hanekom is aware of the high expectations from audiences in this Australasian premiere.
“This is the first time anyone’s going to see it, so you want to make it unique and special and a show that no-one’s ever going to forget. There’s a lot of preparation and a lot of excitement and nerves.”
Jayme-Lee Hanekom regards her character of Celie as incredible.
“She’s been through more than any single person should have been through and still finds good in everyone.”
Hanekom says The Color Purple will leave audiences in awe. She hopes it will inspire people to feel empowered to stand up and make their lives better.
“It changes people.”
The Color Purple is now playing at Chapel Off Chapel. More shows have been added due to high demand, but tickets are selling fast. www.chapeloffchapel.com.au