The Color Purple
by Anthony Chase
The Color Purple has successfully taken the thrilling vocals and tear-jerking melodrama of the Broadway original and taken it on the road. You can see the production in its full-throttle glory at Shea’s, through this weekend.
The story of how Celie triumphs over a life of abuse to find love, financial success, and a reunion with the children who were stolen from her is expansive and ultimately uplifting.
Playwright Marsha Norman famously rescued the script during the workshop process, commandeering a narrative that, like the original American musical, Show Boat, extends across generations, to provide a coherent and compelling evening. A huge part of the challenge was to present elements of physical and sexual abuse in a manner that could be palatable for family entertainment, without diluting the hard-hitting story that had made both Alice Walker’s novel and Stephen Spielberg’s film so moving and memorable. Norman’s solution was to resolve these aspects of the story with humor, the universal healer. While the abusive husband of Walker’s novel was arguably a monster, in the musical, Norman finally reduces this ogre to the status of a joke—the ultimate comeuppance. The achievement was masterful, and the story held its appeal.
I was skeptical when I first saw The Color Purple at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in 2004. From the opening scene, however, I was won over. So, it seems, was Oprah Winfrey; when a Broadway transfer started to seem doubtful, in September 2005, she invested a million dollars, and put her own name above the title. The success of the musical was assured.
The central role was originally played by LaChanze, already famous from Once on This Island. She would reprise her performance on Broadway and win a Tony award for her efforts. Kenita R. Miller is stunning in the role at Shea’s.
The role of Mister, played in the workshop by Buffalo’s Jesse Martin (who influenced Norman’s scripting of the character), was played by Kingsley Leggs on Broadway and is played by Rufus Bonds, Jr. at Shea’s.
Brandon Victor Dixon, a Tony nominee for his affably comic performance as Harpo, also plays the role at Shea’s. Other notable performances include Lynette DuPree who is magnificent at Sophia, and Angela Robinson, who is the most compelling Shug Avery I have seen.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v8n23 (Summer Guide: week of Thursday, June 4, 2009) > The Color Purple
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