Fantasia defies cynics with debut in 'Purple'

Monday, August 20, 2007

NEW YORK -- After it was announced that Fantasia would take over the lead role in the Broadway musical "The Color Purple," she recalls her co-stars as being warm, friendly and supportive. Still, she knew in the back of their minds that they had doubt about her casting.

Perhaps for good reason. The former "American Idol" champ was taking over for LaChanze, who won a Tony for her portrayal of the downtrodden "Celie," and the 23-year-old's acting experience had been limited to a saccharine Lifetime TV biopic in which she played herself -- not exactly the most challenging of roles.

And then there was the whole celebrity factor that's permeated Broadway in recent years -- putting stars such as Usher, Brooke Shields, Deborah Gibson and other assorted A- to D-listers in stagnant productions to get a boost at the box-office.

However, since her arrival in April, she has done more than hold up the show. She's revitalized it. Fantasia has received rave reviews, boosted a box office that had started to slump and, some say, improved a successful commercial production that was lacking critically.

Michael Kuchwara, The Associated Press' drama critic, said Fantasia "gives the production new heart, soul and star power." And The New York Times called her "so terrific that this earnest but mechanical musical is more effective and affecting than it was when it yawned open a year and a half ago at the Broadway Theater."

"I think she's clearly given the show a new burst of energy that everyone is enjoying the benefit of," said Scott Sanders, one of the show's producers. "When you bring in someone who is a household name, it brings out the cynics who think that it is just stunt casting and those who actually understand that she is a very talented woman who is going to take a big leap. ... It's turned out to be an incredible win for everyone."

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