As a grad student at UNLV, Zonya Love predicted she would someday play the lead role of Celie in The Color Purple.That someday came quick.
In January, less than a year after she earned her MFA and moved to New York, Love made her Broadway debut in her dream role. "Celie has such an amazing journey, and I felt that I related to her in such an honest way," Love said. "I felt in the pit of my stomach that I was the best choice -- that this is a role I am ordained to play."
Love, 27, appeared in the final six weeks of the Oprah Winfrey-produced musical. Based on Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it's the saga of a rural Southern woman overcoming abuse and adversity to find her own voice and self-worth. Love said she bonded with the character at an early age.
"I think The Color Purple was the second movie I ever saw," said Love (who went by Zonya Love Johnson at UNLV). "My father didn't allow us to watch movies, and he was against anything that didn't focus on education. But somehow The Color Purple was OK. "
By dissecting the script, I realized how extremely strong the character is. I discovered how important she is to all the people who come in contact with her. She is the center."
A friend recommended Love to the show's casting agency. After weeks of multiple auditions, she learned on Nov. 9 that she got the part -- two months to the day after she'd arrived in New York. "I kept my composure as best as I could when they told me," she said. "When I walked out of the room I held it, and held it -- then I let go. There was a praise fest in the bathroom filled with 'Thank you, Jesus!'-es and tears."
It's a demanding role. Love is on stage for most of the 2.5-hour running time, belting out period blues, R&B, and ragtime pieces.
Her natural singing style is more lyrical, said Nate Bynum, professor of theater at UNLV. Bynum, who attended Love's Broadway debut, recruited her from North Carolina A&T State University. "The first time I saw her, the voice was simply unique. It was the essence of who she is," Bynum said. "The thing we call the 'it' factor -- she had that."
Love, who was raised in North Carolina, is a singer at heart. But she opted to major in theatre because she couldn't read music. "Confidence is really important to have. A lack of it can change the entire course of your life. In my case, that was a good thing.
"I feel that God lined everything up the way he wanted it, and all I had to do was show up prepared." With UNLV's Nevada Conservatory Theatre, Love enjoyed playing bossy Lucy in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown -- but her favorite role was the prostitute Mayme in Intimate Apparel. "Those two shows really allowed me to step out of myself. They are extensions of me but different from my everyday self."
As The Color Purple comes to a close, Love is preparing to head back onto the audition circuit. "I am actually OK with the way things played out," she said. "I have not just a Broadway credit but a lead credit on my resum?, so that is a lot to be thankful for." She shouldn't have to wait long for her next someday.