Stu James

Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.

“I play the role of Harpo in the show. He is the husband to Sophia, stepson to Celie. Alice Walker calls him the ‘new’ man, the Renaissance man of the show. He decides to break the cycle of abuse.

“I actually auditioned when they were first doing the show. I was in New York [in] Rent, playing Benny, and they called me, said they were doing a reading of the musical. I auditioned and didn’t get it. I got another call, maybe two years later, when they were auditioning for the national tour in L.A. They called me back, then they flew me to New York for a callback with the creative team and the producers. I think I auditioned a total of four times before I finally got it. I started rehearsing in [February] 2007 in Chicago.

“They call The Color Purple ‘the musical about love’ because there’s so many facets of love depicted in this production. The musical takes you on an amazing emotional ride from happiness and joy to anger and frustration to peace and love. I think what’s also awesome is the redemptive quality for the men. In the musical, like in real life, when we know better, we do better.

“My favorite part is a song in Act II, ‘Any Little Thing’ – the Harpo and Sophia love song. They’re later in their lives. Their relationship is based off that fire thing –fighting that leads them into their passionate moment. It deals with them being older and still having that fire, that desire for each other, no matter what.

“I’m really excited about [the show] and hope the city of Atlanta is open to the message that Alice Walker put in The Color Purple: That love is a universal language, and no matter who you are, everyone deserves love.”

LaTonya Holmes

Hometown: Warner Robins, Ga.

“I am the standby for Celie and Nettie. If either of the actors playing the roles are sick or need to take some time off, I go on for them. Because [we’re] on the road, they know they are to give at least a two-hour notice, but there have been instances where I’ve had to go on with 40-minutes’ notice.

“I had to go on the night before the opening because Celie got sick. I don’t remember a lot of it because the adrenaline was going so strong. My parents were able to see me in the starring role because they had come up for the opening.

“The show was pretty amazing because during Celie’s big 11 o’clock number, the mic went out. The sound guys were telling me to come off the stage, but I didn’t want to leave. I was able to get to them during the instrumental break, and they were standing right in the wings to pin a new mic on my head. But the mic didn’t stay on my head; I ended up having to hold it. The audience loved it. I knew I couldn’t stop the show. It was just a wonderful experience.

“Mr. Gerald Ray Horne – he taught at Northside High School, he’s retired – he’s the reason I’m in this business. Mr. Horne always instilled in everyone in class that you’re as good as you let yourself be. Don’t think because you have a raw talent means you don’t have to study. I still go to voice classes. I go to acting classes because I want my career to go as far as it can go. To me, there is no limit.”

Jenna Ford Jackson

Hometown: Warner Robins, Ga.

“I’m in the ensemble, so I’m in the group scenes, and I cover a number of people: Shug, all three church ladies and the church soloist. You never know which role you’re going to see me in.

“I have a tracking sheet where I chart each character, because each character also has a life backstage. You might have to be stage right for a quick change and then stage left for wig change, so you’ll never make it back onstage on time if you don’t have the [character’s] backstage life right. I can’t rely on my memory, so I have my tracking sheet. I keep it at the theater because sometimes I get to the theater and only have a half-hour to prepare to go on. Or sometimes during the show, someone gets sick, and [I] have to suit up immediately.

“LaTonya Holmes and I grew up together. I’ve known her since the 7th grade. We both got recruited to study theater in Chicago, she moved up to New York, and we hadn’t seen each other for years. The [next] time I saw her was the first day of Color Purple rehearsal. It was a great surprise.

“Sometimes Celie is out and Shug is out, and I’m [onstage] opposite LaTonya. That’s wonderful when that happens. We have such a deep relationship, it brings so much more to it. The other people in the cast have come up and said to us, ‘When the two of you are on together, it’s such a unique chemistry.’ God couldn’t have planned it any better.

“My favorite part? One is when Shug Avery sings [‘Too Beautiful for Words’] to Celie, because it’s the beginning of her journey of discovery to find out who she is. She has never been loved in the way Celie loves her, and it stops her in her tracks. The other is when Celie sings ‘I Am Here.’ Shug and Celie have a fight and … Celie says, ‘I can let go of Shug because I’ve discovered who I am.’ You can’t really love anybody else until you love yourself and understand your personal worth. Then you really can contribute to someone else, because you are whole.”

– As told to Kristi Casey Sanders

Have any plans when you get to Atlanta?

Jenna Ford Jackson: “All of my siblings live in Atlanta, so I’m looking at it as a mini-family reunion. Mr. Gerald Ray Horne is getting a group together – a lot of the teachers [from Northside High School] and some of the Grove Baptist Church members.”

LaTonya Holmes: “I’m going to be recording with a couple of producers. My family reunion will be in Birmingham, so they’re coming to see me. I’ll get to see my dog, Bailey. Mr. Horne will take the bus up with a bunch of people from Warner Robins, but I don’t know if they’ll see me perform or not; we’re on a Principal Equity contract … so [actors] can’t say ‘Take the day for me.’ We’ll see.”

Stu James: “I’m looking forward to spending some time with my mom and pops, older brothers, sister and 98-year-old grandmother, and connecting with old friends, if they’re available. And stopping by my old church. I haven’t physically been home for two years, so I want to go to Eats and eat, get some wings from Dugan’s, drive up Peachtree Street and see if anything’s still there. And I want to go to the Beautiful Restaurant [and] find a good barbecue place.”

Oprah Winfrey presents The Color Purple: The Musical About Love, playing The Fox Theatre July 15-Aug. 3.