How does one navigate two creative careers at once in music and theatre and shine so brightly at both? This is a question I often ask myself about the multi-talented soon-to-be star, Cynthia Erivo. Cynthia has done this through hard work, determination, a never-give-up attitude, a willingness to keep improving/honing her craft, and oddles of talent. And her creative CV doesn’t lie – it includes many high profile live gigs, West End /Off-West End theatre credits (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Lift: A New Musical), and the lead part in the UK tour for Sister Act: The Musical. To add to this, Cynthia has just bagged the role of Celie in the European premiere of the musical version of The Color Purple.
I got the chance to chat to Cynthia in between rehearsals about her creative journey, her musical soundtrack from the past and present, and her new role in The Color Purple amongst other topics.
What made you get into music and theatre in the first place?
When I was 5, I was in a nativity play and it was the first time I had sung on my own. I liked the reaction it got and although I was too young to really explain how it felt, I just knew it was good and since then, I haven’t looked back. Along the way, there have been other influences but that’s the real reason.
What was your musical soundtrack when growing up? What genres and artists were you listening to?
I‘m a fan of Brandy, and also Michael Jackson, particularly ‘Off the Wall’ and ‘Thriller’. I love those albums! For some reason, I also listened to a lot of Kate Bush and Eurythmics too. Oh and I could probably do a couple of 80s rock ballads word for word and even reel off a little Aretha (Franklin)! Eclectic is what you’d call me!
You recently achieved getting the main part of Celie in the upcoming European premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical The Color Purple. Can you tell us more about your role and the premise of the musical?
Celie is a character who we watch as she grows and ages through adversity, love, loss, weakness, strength, laughter and tears. She’s a bit of everything.
The story is one that explores the discovery of love in its many forms through its women. We experience forgiveness, redemption and humanity and there happens to be wonderful music flowing through it.
What interested you in taking up the role of Celie in The Color Purple?
I fell in love with the character and her heart when I read the book by Alice Walker, and when this opportunity came along I figured it would be a challenge, and I like challenge.
What do you think makes this musical adaptation of The Color Purple so unique and dynamic?
I guess the people in it. Our job is to tell the story our way, and in doing that our adaptation is already unique.
Although your vocals are so impassioned, emotional and expressive, you are also a wonderful songwriter in your own right. Can you shed some light on your original song Signal, its premise and how it came about?
I was working with a producer a while ago, and he sent me an instrumental and it chimed with me. It just made me think of the first time you spot someone you like, and they spot you and you both feel a little spark…..that’s the signal.
You have performed your heart out at various high profile gigs on the live music circuit including being an opening act for Fantasia and performing in an episode on entertainment/gossip website, That Grape Juice’s The Splash. At such a young age, what motivates you to achieve even more and be more successful?
What motivates me most is how much I love what I do, and how much I want to make the people I love proud.
How do you juggle your creative projects in terms of knowing which projects are right for you to do? How do you decide?
If a project feels right, then I want to a part of it. I want to do great work. My agent (Claire Hoath Management) does an amazing job to make sure I don’t double-book myself and she’s always finding great projects for me to be involved in.
What has been the best advice you have received since getting into the industry?
Be yourself, have fun and tell the story!
What have been the most difficult challenges and pressures you’ve had to deal with as a creative artist?
Learning how to deal with time off. I don’t have it often so when I do, it feels odd!
How have you coped with certain barriers/stereotypes that you have encountered working in the industry?
I’m lucky to have an agent who never enforces any sort of stereotype, but sees me as someone who works hard!
In your opinion, how do you think you have worked and honed your craft?
It takes practice, practice and more practice, and it’s about reading, researching, watching and listening.
Who is currently floating your boat in the music world?
Etta Bond, Miguel and Brandy.
What are your biggest achievements and career highlights?
Graduating (from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art – RADA), performing in The Color Purple, being in Sister Act, performing at the IndigO2, and being in love.
What future projects do you have in the pipeline?
I can’t say or I’ll get into trouble, but for now it’s all about The Color Purple! Come and see it!
As Cynthia has said, she will be starring in the European premiere of The Color Purple in the role of Celie from 5th July – 14th September at The Menier Chocolate Factory.
You can book tickets directly from the website - www.menierchocolatefactory.com
Keep up to date with Cynthia Erivo and any future developments via her Facebook Page and Twitter profile.