Fields, Felicia P.
Felicia P. Fields
Oprah Winfrey is a hard act to follow. But Felicia P. Fields has managed to pull off the feat with grace and power. Since 2005, Fields, a veteran of the Chicago professional musical theater scene, has charmed Broadway audiences with her portrayal of Sofia in the stage musical The Color Purple, the character played by Winfrey in the film version of Alice Walker's acclaimed novel. Already a regional star for several years, Fields has now taken Broadway by storm. Her work in Color has vaulted her to the highest peaks of the musical theater world, finally elevating her reputation to a level consistent with her immense singing and acting talent.
Felicia Pearl Fields was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. Her father was a building inspector; her mother, whom Fields described in a November 2005 Newsday interview as "a pretty tough cookie herself," was proprietor of her own beauty salon. Like so many talented singers, Fields' performing career began with gospel. From an early age, she sang in the choir at her Baptist church in the Englewood neighborhood. Growing up, Fields was not thinking about a career in theater. She planned to become a schoolteacher. In fact, she never studied acting until after becoming a professional. She did, however, love the theater, recounting in a 1998 Chicago Sun Times interview her earliest theatrical experience as a child at the Drury Lane Evergreen Park. "I still remember sitting next to my father at shows and thinking ‘I can do that’," she was quoted as saying in the Sun Times.
Church Choir Led to Professional Roles
Her voice stood out enough in the church choir that she caught the attention of two members of the congregation who were songwriters. They began regularly asking her to perform on their demo recordings. At one of these recording sessions in the late 1980s, another musician suggested that Fields audition for an upcoming production of The Wiz at the Marriott Theatre in the northern Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire. Fields ended up being cast as both Glinda the Good Witch and Auntie Em. Even with no formal acting training or experience, she proved to be a natural on the stage, and has been working steadily, mostly to glowing reviews, ever since.
Fields quickly became a fixture on the stages of Chicago's top professional theaters, including the Marriott Lincolnshire, The Goodman, Drury Lane, and Apple Tree. After making her debut in The Wiz, she followed up over the next several years with performances in such hit shows as Hello Dolly, Ain't Misbehavin', Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Dreamgirls. By the mid-1990s, she was widely recognized as one of the Windy City's leading performers in musical theater. The theater community was quick to recognize her extraordinary talent. She was nominated for numerous Joseph Jefferson Awards (or "Jeffs," as they are commonly known-Chicago's version of the Tony Awards), including one for her 1996 performance in the revue Sophisticated Ladies, two in 1998 for supporting roles in South Pacific and Elmer Gantry, and another that year for her work in the review Ain't Misbehavin'. In 1997 Fields received the Hattie McDaniel Award—named for the first African American ever to win an Oscar—for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her performance in the title role in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a show she has appeared in several productions of over the years.
Became Mainstay of Chitown Theater Scene
Fields continued to work constantly, increasingly in featured roles, in the new century. In 2001 she reprised her role in Ma Rainey at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, and played Sister Moore in The Amen Corner both at the Goodman and at Boston University. She also made one of her less frequent forays into the classics that year, playing the Duchess of York in the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's production of Richard II. The following year she played Nettie in Carousel at the Marriott Lincolnshire, and Assunta in The Rose Tattoo at The Goodman. Her 2003 performances included Hot Mikado and Showboat at the Marriott Lincolnshire.
While Fields was making a fine living in the Chicago theater scene, the stage was set, so to speak, for her big break in 2002, while working on Carousel with director Gary Griffin. One day during a technical rehearsal, Fields decided that her costume made her look a little like Oprah Winfrey in the film version of The Color Purple. She spontaneously started hobbling down the aisle of the theater spouting some of Winfrey's lines from the movie. Amused, director Griffin said, "If I ever do The Color Purple, I already have Sofia (Winfrey's character)." Amazingly, just a month later Green called her to say he had been commissioned to direct a musical version of the Alice Walker novel.
Won Critical Acclaim
The Color Purple started out with a successful run at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre, before heading to Broadway for a hit run beginning in November of 2005 at the Broadway Theatre. Fields was instantly singled out as one of show's strongest elements. When much of the cast was invited to appear on Oprah's television show, Fields made it clear with her performance of her character's signature song, "Hell No!", that she had fully succeeded her host as the embodiment of the abused but strong-willed Sofia. Fields was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance on Broadway. She was also honored with a Clarence Derwent Award from the Actors' Equity Association (the main labor union for stage actors) and a Theatre World Award, 12 of which are awarded each year to actors and actresses making their Broadway debut.
In January of 2007 Fields announced that she was leaving the Broadway cast of The Color Purple in order to begin preparing for an upcoming national touring version of the show scheduled to begin a few months later. The tour would kickoff with a homecoming of sorts for Fields, opening at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago. Fields' remarkable ability to bring Sofia to life has left an indelible impression on audiences, especially the women among them. The tour allows her to reach a broader range of people.
"The real gratification is from the women who come up to you at the back stage door and say, ‘You know, I've been abused, but I'm not going for it anymore’," she was quoted as saying in a July 2006 Jet article. With the acclaim she has received for her Broadway debut, Fields' career is set to soar as high in the future as her audiences' spirits do these days when the exultant strains' of "Hell No!" echo through the theater.
At a Glance …
Born Felicia Pearl Fields in Chicago, IL; children: two. Religion: Baptist.
singer, actress, 1980s-.
Actors' Equity Association; Artist Board, Apple Tree Theatre, Chicago.
Hattie McDaniel Award, for Best Featured Actress in a Play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, 1997; Joseph Jefferson Award, 7 nominations, 1993-98; Black Theatre Alliance Awards, nominated for Best Performance, Stones, 2003; Drama League Award, nominated for Distinguished Performance, The Color Purple, 2006; Tony Award, nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, The Color Purple, 2006; Theatre World Award, for Outstanding Broadway Debut Performance, The Color Purple, 2006.
Office—c/o Apple Tree Theatre, 1850 Green Bay Road, Suite 100, Highland Park, IL 60035.
Ain't Misbehavin', Apple Tree Theatre, 1993.
The Goodbye Girl, Marriott Lincolnshire, 1994.
Sophisticated Ladies, Drury Lane South, 1996.
Dreamgirls, Marriott Lincolnshire, 1996.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Goodman Theatre, 1997, 2001.
Carousel, Marriott Lincolnshire, 2002.
Hot Mikado, Marriott Lincolnshire, 2003.
Showboat, Marriott Lincolnshire, 2003.
The Color Purple, Alliance Theatre (Atlanta), 2004; Broadway Theatre, 2005-07.
Chicago Defender, February 28, 2007, p. 12.
Chicago Sun-Times, April 10, 1998, p. 9.
Jet, July 3, 2006. p. 61.
"Diva Talk: Chatting with Color Purple's Felicia P. Fields Plus Gravitte's ‘Defying Gravity,’" Playbill,www.playbill.com/celebritybuzz/article/97437.html (April 2, 2007).
"Fields Brings Power to ‘Purple,’" Newsday.com, www.newsday.com/entertainment/stage/nypurple27,0,2767647.story?coll=ny-theaterheadlines (April 2, 2007).
"Felicia Fields Exits Color Purple Jan. 28 to Prepare for Tour," Playbill,www.playbill.com/news/article/105212.html (April 2, 2007).
"Felicia P. Fields," Broadway.com,www.broadway.com/gen/Buzz_Story.aspx?ci=530470 (March 30, 2007).
"Fields to Reprise Role of Sofia in Color Purple Tour," www.playbill.com/news/article/103146.html (April 2, 2007).
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