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Local talent brightens SpeakEasy run of ‘Color Purple’ at Center for the Arts

Paul Daigneault, producing artistic director of the SpeakEasy Stage Company, faced many challenges in staging the 2005 musical “The Color Purple,” which is running through February 8 at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Expectations were inevitably high for this local production of the high-profile show based on the 1983 Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning epistolary novel by Alice Walker as well as Steven Spielberg’s 1985 screen adaptation with Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and, in her breakthrough role, Whoopi Goldberg.

But Daigneault and his SpeakEasy colleagues have a long track record of undauntedly tackling Boston premieres of recent innovative musicals. Through extensive auditions they found the necessary talent among local actors, many of whom had strong connections to Fields Corner and other parts of Dorchester.

Earlier this year Daigneault had told the press, “ ‘The Color Purple’ will be SpeakEasy’s first time staging a musical in the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion, which is almost twice the size of our regular home in the Calderwood – the Roberts Studio Theatre. So clearly there’s a difference in scope and scale that I will need to address in telling this story and filling the space. I’m also looking forward to working with my music director, choreographer, and design team to capture the rural south in the first half of the 20th Century and bring this show authentically to life.”

For the central role of Celie, the young indomitable woman who triumphs over a lifetime of incest and insult, the director tapped Roxbury native, Lovely Hoffman, who has been showered with praise by local reviewers and is the adopted daughter of Bishop Edward W. Hoffman, founder of Dorchester’s Calvary Church International Ministries.

Hoffman told the Boston Globe that singing each week for the past 20 years in the family-run house of worship on Meetinghouse Hill helped prepare her for the role. “The church scene in the beginning [of the play]? That’s what my church would look like on any given Sunday. People jumping around, the call and response, people just excited to be there.” In addition, Ms. Hoffman, who has a master’s in secondary education from Boston College, teaches sixth-grade at the Smith Leadership Academy, a public charter school on Leonard Street in Fields Corner.

It was no surprise, then, that it was at Smith Leadership Academy that Daigneault found all six young performers he needed for the musical. Three members of the youth cast who are Dorchester residents are Ukiah Doyle, Kyrnyra J. Anderson-Wolf, and Jye’l Ancrum. The other three are  Jamie Mclaurin, Xikiyah Firmin, and Mattthews Scantlebury.
But important adult roles were also cast from among Dorchester residents, including Carolyn Saxon (Doris, Church Lady, Ensemble) and Cliff Odle ( Ol’ Mister, Preacher, Ensemble). Odle was recently the project director for the Emancipated Century project, which produced staged readings of all ten of August Wilson’s plays in chronological order including a couple at UMass and the Strand.

Finally, critics are also praising the work of Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Celie’s abusive husband Mister. The much-in-demand Parent recently excited attention as Mercutio in the Actors’ Shakespeare Project at the Strand. Since 2012 he has been a Performing Arts Specialist/Substitute Teacher at Dot’s Martin Luther King School.