The Tony Award®-winning revival of THE COLOR PURPLE makes its way to the Forrest Theatre this month. The musical is filled with songs from the Grammy-winning® score of jazz, gospel, ragtime and blues. Gavin Gregory takes on the gritty role of “Mister”, also known as “Albert”, in the current North American tour. “Mister” is a complex character who is a product of his upbringing. Gregory talks about his portrayal in this moving rendition of an American classic.
THE COLOR PURPLE returns to Philadelphia at the Forrest Theatre December 12–17, 2017.
Debra Danese: THE COLOR PURPLE musical is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel; which was later adapted into a motion picture. What was your first exposure to the story?
Gavin Gregory: One of my brothers and I chose to see it at the movie theater. It was the first time I cried publicly at a movie. It was such a moving experience, and I had never seen Black people on the big screen like that before. I was in high school at the time. It rocked my world.
DD: You have an extensive musical theater background. How did you get your start?
GG: I wanted to be the next soul singing sensation, so I moved to Atlanta trying to get into the music scene there. I was singing around town and met people who said I should also do theatre. So I started auditioning for local theatres and started booking. I realized it was a great fit for me. I continued to pursue and just learned from every job I ever did.
DD: You are playing the role of Mister in the touring production. Tell us about your character and how you prepared to take on the role.
GG: Mister is an iconic role, and can be easily dismissed by some as “the mean guy” which would be the wrong way to look at him. Mister is actually a very complicated character because he grapples with how he was raised to be a no nonsense man, like his father. Being who his father wants him to be, and yet wanting to live his life as the free spirit he actually sees himself as.
To be clear, his father was a slave who got his freedom and owned land. He wanted nothing but the best for his son, who is now the steward, or owner, of the land. He only knew to teach him the values he could pass on. He was taught to look at women as subservient and that it was his duty to rule over them. Mister clearly saw himself as a free spirit, which is why Shug Avery was so important to him. But his father believed he had no choice but to be the business man he raised him to be.
The way to prepare as an actor for this role is to not judge him and realize this is who he was raised to be. I love that he grows and finds redemption. Mister, or Albert, is human, and a man of that time period who believed he was right and acted the way a lot of men with his social stature did. He was a Black man of means in the early 1900’s, a generation from slavery. I always keep that in mind. Never excusing his behavior or judging it, but living in what that meant for him as I portray his character.
DD: What is the most challenging part of playing this role?
GG: Calling my beautiful leading lady ugly night after night. Whenever I get the chance before each show, I try to connect with her and tell her she is beautiful.
DD: The story is set in the 1930s and deals with social themes that are still relevant today. What issue from the production resonates most with you and your character?
GG: How bad behavior is passed on from generation to generation. To be taught hate and how to execute hate to make you feel superior.
DD: What aspects of being on tour do you enjoy most?
GG: What I enjoy most is seeing how this story touches so many people and how people lavish love upon you because you were part of their experience.