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Monday, 21 December 2015 17:55

Broadway Review - THE COLOR PURPLE

Written by
Jennifer Hudson and the Cast of THE COLOR PURPLE Jennifer Hudson and the Cast of THE COLOR PURPLE Photo: Matthew Murphy

Director John Doyle’s revival of the musical The Color Purple is beyond moving and uplifting. It has been streamlined into a svelte and simple production that allows the actors to focus on character without having the audience’s attention pulled away by extraneous props and intricate scenery. The theme of hope and endurance overcoming loss and despair drives the musical forward.

The musical is based on the Alice Walker novel and Stephen Spielberg film of the same title. Playwright Marsha Norman has done an excellent job of winnowing down a complex novel and film into a fully-formed musical. The music and lyrics are by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.

The Color Purple is the story of two close sisters, Celie (Cynthia Erivo) and Nettie (Joaquina Kalukango). Their father, Pa ( Kevyn Morrow) has incestuously impregnated Celie for the second time, each time “disposing” of the babies, one of a long line of losses for Celie.

Mister (in a commanding performance by Isaiah Johnson), an ominous-looking man whose demeanor is enhanced by the whip that extends his right hand is looking for a new mother for his “mean children.” He wants Nettie but Pa won’t agree and he settles for Celie. There is no love here, just a woman being subjugated to the will of a nasty, horrible man. Pa is so ready to get rid of Celie that he offers Mister a free gift with purchase, a cow.

When Nettie comes to visit Celie in her new home, a confrontation between Mister and Nettie results in him cutting Celie off from her for years by intercepting her correspondence. Another loss that Celie is forced to endure.

Shug Avery (Jennifer Hudson), a former love interest of Mister’s shows up on Celie and Mister’s doorstep in less than optimal condition. She is a pastor’s daughter and an outcast for being an easy woman. Celie nurses Shug back to life. Over time she and Shug develop a deep personal relationship that also gets torn asunder. Shug finds a new male love, Grady (Antoine L. Smith), and takes off for Memphis leaving Celie alone once again with Mister. Before Shug leaves to go back to Memphis, Celie implores her to stay, saying, “Everybody gone now. My mama. My Nettie. My kids. Even Sofia.”

Sophia (Danielle Brooks) is the spit-fire fiancé of Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe) Mister’s son. When Sofia is approached in town by the mayor’s wife to take care of their kids, she “disrespects” her when she replies “hell no!” She is beaten so badly by the mayor’s men that she loses sight in one eye, can’t talk and in lieu of bail is forced to work for the mayor’s wife anyway.

The talent on the stage at the Bernie Jacobs Theatre is breathtaking. Cynthia Erivo as Celie blossoms from the eyes-cast-down shell of a human to a confident, independent woman. Erivo is blessed with a magnificent voice. She accomplished something I haven’t seen in a Broadway show in a long time - she stopped the show with a standing ovation for her anthem, “I’m Here.” (I’m reminded of 1983 and La Cage aux Folles when Alban closes the first act with “I Am What I Am.”) This was the second time Erivo’s performance gave me chills, the first being the end of act one where she learns that after years of separation, her sister is alive.

Hudson shines vocally as Shug, she sets the place ablaze when she belts out “Push da Button” in Harpo’s new juke joint. But her character’s depth was lacking. She was too pulled together. When she shows up drunk at Mister and Celie’s house, she doesn’t possess that desperation that one felt from watching Margaret Avery as Shug in the film. We don’t get the impression that this woman is washed up and in need of Celie’s help.

As Harpo, Scatliffe is perfect as the hen-pecked husband bossed around by Sofia and later by his temporary girlfriend, Squeek ( Patrice Covington). Covington’s performance as the irritating wanna-be-show girl is great fun, her derriere bouncing at the audience and a voice that matches her name. There are three church ladies (Carrie Compere, Bre Jackson, and Rema Webb) that add a touch of levity as they comment on the goings on.

As Sophia, “Orange is the New Black’s” Danielle Brooks brings fireworks, laughter and sadness to the stage. A decision that was made, most likely by director Doyle, to have Sophia appear to be fully recovered from the savage beating she previously received by the Mayor’s men didn’t feel right. We are told she has been beaten so badly that she can’t talk and is blind in one eye. At the end of the show, Sophia appears to have no lingering effects from the beating.

That is the only complaint I have with Mr. Doyle’s work. His production is artfully directed. The act of Celie giving birth to her second child is done with a large sheet being used to create her baby bump. When it is time for her to deliver, she slowly pulls the sheet out from under her maternity clothing, bunching it up in a ball and holding it like a baby.

Doyle is also responsible for designing the set. He took repurposed barn floor boards to create simple scenic elements. Hung on the walls are hard, straight-back chairs that are taken off and used throughout the production to create a dance hall, a church or an African corral. His choice of rough-hewn scenic elements and hard, uncomfortable chairs reflects the rough and uncomfortable lives of these characters. Jane Cox’s lighting design brings the depth of the set to life.

At plays end, Celie has become a successful business woman who has come to terms with the cycle of loss in her life. “Somebody leave my life, somebody else come, I know that now.” The level of peace that all these characters come to find translates into a heart-warming and satisfying theatrical experience that must be seen.

View Entire Production Credits at IBDB.com

Edited by: Bruce W. Greenwood

Additional Info

  • Theatre: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 242 West 45th Street New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Musical
  • Previews:: November 10, 2015
  • Opening Night: December 10, 2015
  • Closing: Open Ended
Last modified on Monday, 21 December 2015 20:12