Over the past three years, Carla R. Stewart has experienced “The Color Purple” through many lenses.

When the revival of the musical opened on Broadway in 2015, she took the stage as Olivia (and later in the run as one of the Church Ladies), in addition to being an ensemble member and an understudy for several other roles.

It was a wide range of experiences that would prove invaluable, giving her a deeper look into the story first published by Alice Walker in the early 1980s, and later adapted into the popular feature-film directed by Steven Spielberg.

“I think what I’ve learned most is that you can’t take everything at face value,” she said. “You have to dig a little bit deeper to get to know people.”

Now, the role of Shug Avery in the national tour — in Seattle through this weekend as part of Broadway at the Paramount — belongs to her.

And while she’s enjoyed traveling across the country, Stewart has found the response from audiences in each city to be just as rewarding.

“Just seeing how this story affects so many different people,” she said. “And the stories we get to hear. How its moved them, or caused them to change, or uplifted them, or caused them to leave abusive relationships, things like that. Hearing those stories is just a great payoff, a great reward.”

Those crowds are invited in right from the opening scene, which Stewart acknowledges can be a bit jarring.

“On Broadway we were able to shake peoples’ hands because we were that close to the audience,” she said. “But now we just look dead in their eyes and wave at them, and connect with them right away.”

But, she has little doubt that it engages the audience for the rest of the show.

“Once we break that fourth wall, they’re always — from that moment on — they’re in it with us,” she said. “Whether they’re vocal or not, we know that they’re there.”

With the tour winding down, Stewart is working on her one-woman show, titled “Truth Be Told,” about her personal faith journey. And her ambitions go well beyond the stage.

“I thought Broadway was going to be the end all be all but no, I want to do TV and film and all of those things,” she said.

For now, though, her focus is on the production at hand, which next heads to Charlotte and Chicago, before a month-long run in Washington, D.C.

“There’s lows and there’s great highs,” she said, “and I think everyone leaves feeling triumphant."

For more information on the touring production of “The Color Purple,” visit www.colorpurple.com. To learn more about Broadway at the Paramount, or to purchase tickets, go to www.seattle.broadway.com.


Carla R. Stewart (Shug Avery) and the North American tour cast of "The Color Purple." Photo by Matthew Murphy (2017)