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PERFORMING ARTS

Color her destiny purple in this book-to-movie-to-stage musical

December 13, 2007|Greg Braxton

MICHELLE Williams is caught up these days in a world without Destiny. And that's just fine by her.

Best known as one third of a superstar pop group, Williams has traded the flash of Destiny's Child for the earthy pathos of blues singer Shug Avery in "The Color Purple," the theatrical adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Walker novel and the Steven Spielberg film. The touring company of the Oprah Winfrey-produced musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2005, opens Sunday at the Ahmanson Theatre.

Joining Williams are Jeannette Bayardelle (Celie) and Felicia P. Fields (Sofia), both veterans from the Broadway production, and "American Idol" alum LaToya London (Nettie).

In some ways, Williams, 27, has been preparing for the role since she was a girl. "My sister and I would watch the movie every day when we were little," she says. "At the time, we didn't understand the meaning of it all. But I remember my favorite scenes clearly, and they involved Shug."

Williams was too busy touring and recording with Destiny's Child to see the play when it opened. But her mother encouraged her to audition.

At that time, the members of Destiny's Child had gone their separate ways, and Williams was busy taking acting classes and recording a solo album. She contacted producers, who were happy to send her a script. But just before her audition in New York, Williams -- a veteran of countless live performances at sold-out arenas around the world and a brief stint on Broadway starring in "Aida" -- became crippled with stage fright and nearly backed out. "I definitely got cold feet," she says. "Just shows that I'm human."

Williams looks back on that confidence blip as a well-timed growth experience. "For years I was used to being around Beyonce [Knowles] and Kelly [Rowland], and now there was no one holding me up. I was forced to grow, and it was a good thing."

And she's fallen deeper in love with her brash character. "Shug was abused, she didn't get love from her father," says Williams. "I want people to see the good person inside her. She's doing a lot of acting out because she really wanted love.

"This is really a fantasy for me," she adds. "There are things I won't do on the street that I can do [through Shug]."

Gary Griffin, director of the touring company, calls Williams a "vibrant spirit. . . . She brings to the role a bright spirituality. You can see why [lead character] Celie would be attracted to her."

Williams has been with the production since February and plans to stay with the troupe at least through March. Even if she follows through on her plan to release a solo album in 2008, she wants to continue with the show. "Hopefully I can do both. I've told them, 'Please don't put my costume in storage!' "

As for the other question, the future of that pop group: "I really don't know," she says. "But the other day Kelly was visiting me, and we were just hanging out, and I thought, If we never record or do another show, I'm so happy we have our friendship. That's what's important."

-- Greg.Braxton@latimes.com

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'THE COLOR PURPLE'

WHERE: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. (through March 9)

PRICE: $30-$150

INFO: (213) 628-2772; www.ahmansontheatre.org. For groups: (213)-972-7231

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