Cynthia Erivo, who will sing Broadway and pop songs at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Sunday, Sept. 16, backed by a five-piece band, was largely unknown until she assumed her breakout role as Celie in a revival of The Color Purple, first in London and then on Broadway, where she earned a Tony award in 2016 followed by Grammy and Daytime Emmy wins. The Nigerian-born singer and actress’ star is on the rise and she is making her film debut in October in Bad Times at the El Royale. Andrea Valluzzo spoke with Erivo about her upcoming show.
Andrea Valluzzo: When did you know you had something special with The Color Purple?
Cynthia Erivo: I had this gut feeling that it was the right show to be doing, I just didn’t know what would come from it. When we opened, the crowd went crazy.
AV: When did you know you had “made it”?
CE: I think there was a really weird surreal moment when I collected the Grammy and went on the Grammy stage [in February 2017] to perform with John Legend that I felt like things are starting to change. I don’t think to myself that I have made it, there is still work to do.
AV: You play Darlene Sweet in Bad Times at the El Royale. Tell us about the movie.
CE: I don’t want to spoil it. It’s about a hotel and people who are intertwined. My character, Darlene, is determined and strong, but a little bit lost. I loved playing her, she’s so different from anything I have played before. She is of that era, a Supremes-type ’60s feel.
AV: When it comes to acting, how do you get into character?
CE: I like to start with the words. The script gives you a lot of information about who the person is. Because of that, you get the rhythm of a person’s speech, which always gives you the rhythm of the way they move. Then you can figure out what they are trying to communicate with other people.
AV: What will your show at the Playhouse be like?
CE: It will be a combination of things because that’s who I am. Some songs you may have heard and some you haven’t heard me sing: pop songs, rock songs and soul songs. I want to show what makes me unique.
AV: What’s your favorite song to sing on stage?
CE: There is a song by Annie Lennox called Why. It feels really great with the band. I love singing that. Imagine has become one of those songs I keep being asked to sing. I always like singing Ain’t No Way by Aretha Franklin.
AV: Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
CE: Aretha Franklin is the one who I learned to tell stories from. I love Barbra Streisand, she is one of those women who has taken her career in her hands. She did everything so beautifully that I feel like that’s what I want for myself. And obviously my mother. She instilled this wonderful determination in me, working hard. She always tries to make sure I stay true to the dreams I have.
AV: What music are you listening to on your ipod or phone now?
CE: Shakka, a friend of mine from the U.K., is an amazing artist. I was running this morning and listening to him.