NEW YORK — It’s a small world, and in The Color Purple, actors Eric L. Christian and LaVon Fisher-Wilson found out Broadway is even smaller.
Both attended Louisville’s Youth Performing Arts School, Christian a few years ahead of Fisher-Wilson.
“He was the hot-shot senior,” Fisher-Wilson, who graduated from YPAS in 1991, says of Christian, who was in the class of ’89.
After graduation, they took divergent paths from Louisville to Oprah Winfrey’s big Broadway production. But now, they are together again backstage at the Broadway Theatre.
Both are swings, meaning they understudy several roles in the show.
“It’s the first original production that I have been an original cast member in,” Christian (photo, right, by by Aaron Lee Fineman, backstage at The Color Purple) says of the show, which celebrated its first anniversary Dec. 1. “That’s exciting because you get to work from the bottom up, creating all of these things.
“This show has been a very interesting journey, arriving at what it is. Lots of ups and downs, lots of changes in choreography and music, to the point that sometimes you would get songs, and that night, you were putting them in the show — full songs, trying to figure out what worked best.”
Fisher-Wilson joined the cast in September.
When she got a call to audition for the show, “I was a little pessimistic,” she says, “because I had auditioned for The Color Purple before, and I said, ‘They don’t want me.’”
But they did, and Fisher-Wilson (photo, left, by Aaron Lee Fineman, backstage at The Color Purple), who has taken a long journey to her Broadway debut, says, “It’s my dream I kept deferring and doing other things. I think I was supposed to do other things because I am glad I am the age I am and have the mind-set I’m in because I am very focused and driven about what I am going to do.” Fisher-Wilson continues, “Also, I could have been put in any cast, but I wound up in this one. The love and care of Kentucky keeps drawing me back to my family, and I get that here with this cast.
“I haven’t even met Oprah yet, but to have my dream happen and to be in such a loving environment is a blessing.”
Part of the reason Fisher-Wilson kept deferring the dream was that she always wanted to move back to Kentucky.
After graduation from YPAS, Fisher-Wilson went to Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., for her bachelor’s degree and then to the University of Florida for graduate school. After that, she embarked on a touring and regional theater career. She was frequently tempted to move to New York but was a little timid about making the leap.
One thing she was doing and still wants to pursue is creating youth arts programs in Louisville. For several years, she ran Ujamma, an African dance program for girls. Part of the motivation for heading to New York was that to get grants at the level she needed, she needed to have some Broadway credits on her résumé.
It also helped that she met her husband, who is from New York, though he is now with Fisher-Wilson in her desire to eventually move to Kentucky.
“I am on this journey, and we will see where it takes me, but eventually, the journey will lead back to Kentucky,” she says.
Christian, on the other hand, recalls, “When I first hit New York, when I was 16, I said, ‘This fits my pace. This is where I want to be.’ ”
He’s now been in the city 12 years, performing in the Broadway productions of Hairspray and The Lion King, in which he understudied Simba, as well going on several national tours.
He is actually a Lexington native and attended Meadowthorpe Elementary School before he moved to Louisville in sixth grade. Christian got his first taste of stage work at a Lexington Children’s Theatre’s summer program. His tuition for that and several summer theater programs was supported by the Chittenden family, which he considers the “guardians” of his theatrical development.
“We couldn’t afford the tuition to the Children’s Theatre programs,” Christian said of his family. “But they said, ‘We think this would be good for you, and we really want you to do it.’
“Lexington is where the bug started,” Christian reflects, and though he now calls New York home, he says his Kentucky upbringing “was the foundation of everything that I have arrived at.”