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A Star Takes The Stage

Cynthia Erivo performs at the Black Girls Rock! Awards in New Jersey in August.

Cynthia Erivo may not quite be a household name just yet — but the Broadway star and budding film actress soon will be.

“I was 5 the first time I had done anything (performed) on my own,” Erivo recalls. “I loved that people seemed to be happy. It seemed to make people smile. As a 5-year-old, things are sort of black and white — there’s no gray areas. I just knew whatever I was doing would make people happy, and I wanted to continue doing that.”

Hawai‘i audiences will get a chance to see her magic for themselves March 16 when Erivo performs an exclusive, one-night-only concert at Hawai‘i Theatre (see details at top right).

Erivo always makes a sartorial splash, as she did at the LA premiere of Bad Times at the El Royale. JORDAN STRAUSS/INVISION/ AP PHOTO

Erivo, 32, a London native, trained at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which has produced thespians as varied as Sally Hawkins, Anthony Hopkins, Vivian Leigh and Alan Rickman.

“I wanted to act because I felt it was an outlet for creativity and another way to tell stories and be involved in telling someone else’s life,” Erivo muses. “I felt like I was searching for different ways to express myself, and acting was one of those ways.”

After initial appearances on British television, Erivo began dabbling in theater, even playing the Whoopi Goldberg role in the UK tour of Sister Act.

Her big break came in a quintessentially American story — The Color Purple, in which Erivo starred as Celie Harris.

“Playing Celie was one of the most amazing things I have ever done just because it changed my life completely,” Erivo says. “It’s such a beautiful story to be able to tell.”

Erivo stayed with the role when it transitioned to Broadway in 2015, earning a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in the process.

The accolades continued to rain in when the cast performed on the Today show in 2016, where they earned a 2017 Daytime Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Musical Performance in a Daytime Program.

And if that wasn’t enough, Erivo and the cast also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album that same year.

Yes, Erivo is sitting on the cusp of the elusive EGOT — so it’s fortunate that 2018 marked the year that Erivo also broke into film.

“That all happened by accident,” Erivo says. “I knew I wanted to act and I knew I wanted to do screen at some point as well. When I took The Color Purple, I then signed with my agent and these things just sort of started coming.”

She made her big-screen debut in Bad Times at the El Royale, where reviews cited her performance as one of the bright spots in the ensemble cast. She followed that up with the crime thriller Widows, in which she played a babysitter-turned-getaway driver.

“(What) I’m looking for, when it comes to scripts and characters I play, is that they’re well-rounded human beings,” says Erivo of how she picks her roles, “that they serve a purpose in the story … they’re fully realized, that they are human … that they feelings you get to explore something; whether they are villain or good, they still have to have a fully rounded human quality to them.”

This ties in, she says, to her overall interest in advocating for women and education.

“It’s in the picking of the role,” she says. “It’s making sure that when I do have a chance to speak out about things I do, when I have a chance to make sure that a woman who is shown on screen is played well, is written well, is written in a rounded way, I make a point of trying to make sure that is what happens with these roles.

“Even if it seems like very little, I’m making small steps that we, as women, are seen in a specific way, and not just ancillary to the story.”

This stance makes her future projects all the more interesting. Erivo will star as Harriet Tubman in Harriet, a biopic scheduled for release this fall.

Playing such a revered American icon is daunting, but Erivo calls it “an extremely special honor” to have received the role.

She also is set to join the ensemble of two sci-fi flicks: Chaos Walking which will star Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, and Needle in a Haystack which features time travel shenanigans from Leslie Odom Jr. and Freida Pinto.

More immediately, she expands to television and begins filming The Outsider, an HBO series, in March.

Erivo, who stars as Holly Gibney, dishes, “She’s special. She’s a brilliant investigator, and she’s come into town to help solve a crime that is quite mystical.”

And as Erivo’s star continues to blaze bright, it’s clear that her own brilliance is only at its beginning.

Ballads of Broadway

Cynthia Erivo may be born and raised as a Brit, but she confesses a great love for Hawai‘i. So it didn’t take much persuading to convince her to headline a one-night show at Hawai‘i Theatre.

“It’s gonna be a night of love songs, but they’re all from Broadway shows, past and present,” she teases.

Doors open at 7 p.m. March 16, with the concert starting at 8. A VIP cocktail hour and dinner precede the show. Tickets are $79-$125.

For more information, visit hawaiitheatre.com.