The Chicago production of The Color Purple certainly features a number of talented women, but there are some outstanding men as well. Windy City Times recently talked with one of them—Stu James, who plays Harpo—about life in Chicago, his own CD, being in Dreamgirls and a certain talk-show queen.
Windy City Times: How's Chicago treating you?
Stu James: Great! I love the architecture and I've been biking along the lakeshore. And the weather works for me; I actually like the humidity, which is great for a singer's voice.
WCT: You're one of the few who likes it, trust me. Also, are there certain foods you avoid [ for the sake of your voice ] ?
SJ: I'm actually a pesco-vegetarian; I eat salmon and whitefish, but there's no red meat or chicken for me. I also stay away from certain dairy products, although I like almond milk and rice milk. However, the keys are moderation and knowing what works for you. It's a discipline, man.
WCT: Now, let's talk about The Color Purple. How were you cast?
SJ: I think I came in four times. I was originally called in for the workshop; I was on Broadway doing Rent at the time. However, I didn't get it; Brandon, a dear friend of mine, ended up getting it. I was called twice in New York and twice in Los Angeles—and it moved from there.
WCT: What would you say is the biggest difference between Chicago's and New York's theater scenes?
SJ: New York is very electric and the people are very skilled at how to do this—although Chicago's people are very savvy as well. Chicago feels like a smaller New York City.
The biggest differences [ involve ] volume and production levels. You have big New York producers, but [ this city ] has the Broadway in Chicago series; you're getting the same thing, but on a smaller scale.
You do have your own identity. Chicago is like a clean New York. [ Laughs WCT: What was it like meeting Oprah [ Winfrey, a co-producer of The Color Purple ] ?
SJ: This woman is phenomenal. She's one of the most generous women I've ever met. She's willing to share her time; for her to take the time after the [ press premiere ] was great. I want to be her when I grow up.
WCT: You also have a CD [ called Love Is ] coming out soon.
SJ: Yeah, I'm working on some stuff. Hopefully, it'll come out sometime next year and I hope to finish [ the album ] after I get back to L.A. It's hard to do it on the road right now. The lyrics [ involve, among other things ] being in love and not having who you want sometimes.
WCT: So when Stu James wants to set the mood, who does he play?
SJ: I like [ R&B artists ] Robin Thicke, Will Downing, Beyonce and Maxwell. I have a similar vibe to Maxwell; I'm more neosoul-pop. Of course, there are the old-school musicians like Luther Vandross, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and a lot of Motown.
I actually like all types of music—and I really like lyrics. Country music tells a story, like if you hear [ sings ] , 'Walking down the street/Grabbin' a beer/Thinkin' about my baby.'
WCT: By the way, I didn't know you were in Dreamgirls.
SJ: What's funny is that my scene was edited from the film, but it's in the director's cut [ on DVD ] . Look for the '70s disco scene and the brother in the gold chaps dancing real with the hot Asian girl. [ Laughs ]
The Color Purple runs at The Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, through Sept. 30. Tickets are on sale at the Broadway In Chicago Box Offices ( 151 W. Randolph, 24 W. Randolph and 18 W. Monroe ) , Ticketmaster at 312-902-1400, online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com and at all Ticketmaster ticket centers.
For more on Stu James, see www.stujames.net or www.myspace.com/stujameslive.