Entertainment » Theatre

'Color Purple' Actor Kyle E. Baird on Celie's (and his own) Journey

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Tuesday Nov 28, 2017

"The Color Purple" ran nearly a thousand performances a decade ago, yet its initial Broadway production didn't quite capture the powerful essence of Alice Walker's hugely popular 1982 novel. That came in 2015 when British director John Doyle re-imagined the musical for a scaled-down revival that got the love of the critics, the audiences and the Tony voters, who honored with a Best Revival Tony.

For actor Kyle E. Baird seeing this production was a revelation. "I went to the show with one of my friends who did the wig design for it, and at intermission I turned to her and said, 'This is my show. This is it.' Having seen the original production and this one, the difference in the story telling, I was much more drawn to this one."

Little did Baird know that within the year he'd be touring in the revival's first national tour, which is at the Shubert Theatre through Sunday, December 3.

EDGE spoke with the out actor recently about being part of the show, in which he plays two roles and is part of the ensemble; what he thinks of John Doyle's production and what's the hardest part of touring.

His favorite show

EDGE: How did you get cast?

Kyle E. Baird: I had my audition for this show in February. I read for a couple of different roles, then got to come in two weeks later for John Doyle and Catherine Jayes, who is the musical supervisor for the show. Actually they called me later that day with the offer.

EDGE: How did John Doyle participate in the touring production?

Kyle E. Baird: John Doyle was in the room a lot. The associate Matt DiCarlo pretty much staged a lot of it and John would come in every other day or so and give us his thoughts and original intentions. He helped us find the show he created first, then encouraged us different ways to approach our characters as well.

EDGE: Did you see the previous productions on Broadway?

Kyle E. Baird: I saw the original production when Fantasia Barrino was in it. It was during my first year in musical theater college. I sat front row center with my sister and my mother. I remember sitting there and thinking, 'all right, Fantasia. Show me something.' From the moment she took the stage, I started crying. I cried the whole show. That was 2006-2007. I saw this production when it was with Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Hudson... And as I said, this is my show. Flash-forward six months later, I got the call from John.

Focusing on Celie

EDGE: How did John Doyle reinvent the show from the original production?

Kyle E. Baird: So much of musical theater is glitz and glam --throw some glitter on it and make it bigger. What John did was to go back to the novel and focus strictly on Celie's story. If it didn't have anything to do with Celie's story, it was on the chopping block. He really just focused in. There is a lot of staging when the rest of the company is on stage and looking at Celie. And I was on stage the other day during one of those scenes and I felt this energy coming from the audience. I felt the audience hitting all of us and us redirecting the energy to right to where the focus point should be, with Celie. I think a lot of time in musical theater now you are distracted as to where to look -- someone is flying over the audience while somebody is giving an important part of the story on the side of the stage. John is brilliant at making the audience focus on what is most important thing happening on the stage.

EDGE: What makes the show so relevant?

Kyle E. Baird: Everything. The struggles she goes through are the struggles I see popping up on my news feed ten times a day. It is a lot of self worth; it is a lot of how other people view you; it is a lot of the struggle to be better. And I think Celie must deal with so many things, but comes out triumphant, and that's what I am trying to do in my own life.

EDGE: Does it resonate you as a gay man?

Kyle E. Baird: I think it is everybody's struggle. Obviously as a gay man I have had troubles with fitting in and trying to be who somebody else wants me to be, instead of who I am. I think it is that struggle, but I think that struggle goes so much past one specific personality. If you have ever dealt with an image issue or have dealt with being an immigrant, or anything like that. That's the struggle. If you ever felt you didn't quite fit in you can identify with Celie's struggle.

A struggle

EDGE: Acting was a career choice because...?

Kyle E. Baird: I couldn't play any sports. I started acting in middle school. I did theater camp and we did that television musical with Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack, 'Free to Be You and Me.' Up to this point I had played baseball, I had tried football, I had tried tennis... My mother tells the story that she saw me in that show and sat back in her chair and said, 'I think he has found what he can do now.'

EDGE: When did you decide that is what you wanted to do?

Kyle E. Baird: It was probably when I was in high school. The high school I went to in Connecticut that had one of the best music programs in the state, so I was surrounded by a lot of good young artists and a faculty that really knew how to hone artistry as well. So I decided around my junior and senior year to try it professionally. Of course I had all those regular doubts, so I applied to only one theater school for college and gave myself this ultimatum that if I get in I will do this, but if I don't this must be a sign. I did not get in that school. I got asked to reapply the next semester and thought that was my sign. And I went to go study music business, but a semester later I decided I needed to perform. So I transferred to school in New York and I finished there and pretty much started working right out of college.

EDGE: Can it be a struggle?

Kyle E. Baird: It is constantly a struggle. The biggest one is actor vs. self. You just have to keep reminded yourself that no doesn't necessarily mean no, it means next opportunity. I think it easier some days not to take it personally than other days. How can you not take it personally when someone says, 'I love your talent, but you are not going to fit the costume.' That's a personal thing. Or I have been told the way I pronounced a word would blow out a sound system, so I lost the job on that. I was like, 'I can work on that.' But how do you not that kind of thing personally; but you just got to say to them, 'thank you,' and tell yourself, 'next opportunity. thanks for releasing me to the rest of my life.'

Finding his groove

EDGE: Are you enjoying touring?

Kyle E. Baird: I am finding the groove for sure. It has been interesting. But shopping for microwavable food can be difficult. And I'm learning that you have to be okay with yourself. It is a lot of alone time, yet I am with the same people a lot. So you have to be okay with being okay with the same people, but also finding your own space and finding your own rhythm. I like to stay active and go out in new places and meet new people.

EDGE: The website for the show describes the company as a family. Have you bonded that way?

Kyle E. Baird: The show portrays such a struggle and deals with such a range of emotion that we have to support each other. We start the show with a prayer every day. We need the love, especially since the message is love. How can we preach that message if we don't live that message?

EDGE: What is the best thing about being part of this production?

Kyle E. Baird: I loved John's direction even before I saw this show. It has been so nice to rehearse it and work with it. And the best thing I love about it is that John acknowledges there is one more extra character in the show and it is the audience. We come out and embrace the audience even before the show starts. And we say to them, 'All right. Here we go. We are together for the next two hours and fifteen minutes. Here we go.' Then he brings that back at the end of the show as well, just to remind them that we, like life, are all in this together.

"The Color Purple" continues through December 3 at the Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For tickets and more information, visit the show's website.

Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.


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