Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Purple Shines on Broadway

Midway through the musical The Color Purple, the character Shug Avery says “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”  Well, I think he'd be pissed off if you missed this revival directed by the talented John Doyle. Wow! What this man has done with this production - completely stepping back from the original production in 2005 - stripping away the pageantry of a big showy musical and telling a beautiful story in an intimate fashion. Mr. Doyle has done it with previous musical revivals and has struck gold again.

I'll go on record as saying I loved the musical the first time around and saw both LaChanze and Fantasia play the role of Celie. I thought it was a great extension of the beloved film with a book by Marsha Norman and music & lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. I was absolutely thrilled to see it in musical form. I had never read Alice Walker's book, but always loved the film and what Whoopi and Oprah had done in it. 

After seeing this revival playing at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, I now realize that original musical wasn't so original after all. Looking back, it seems that cast was told to recreate the moments, acting choices, memories of the film. That is NOT the case in this new version. Gone are the big sets, costume changes, projections. Chairs, sheets, and baskets are used to convey numerous settings and objects. We pay attention to the characters, the lyrics, the beautiful songs. This cast (under the watchful eye of their incredible director) approaches the piece as fresh and new. None of them 'copying' what has come before. They are an incredible ensemble in all senses of the word: both with body in moving and setting scenes as well as creating a glorious sound when opening their mouths.

To point out a few players almost seems unfair, but I have to praise Cynthia Erivo as Celie who came with the show from London. This woman is a gem and a wonderful gift to the stage. Her voice is clear as a bell. She has such vocal control to be as soft or powerful as needed. Her Celie is more in tune and self aware - almost giving in to the life she has instead of searching for blame. It's a more harsh take, but still so incredibly believable. I hope she runs in the show forever.

Jennifer Hudson is the 'name' producers use to bring in audiences and her powerhouse of a voice is right there on display. I personally feel her acting isn't as strong as others around her, but I say a huge kudos to her for not coming across as a 'star' and blending into the ensemble when it is called for.

I loved every voice in the show, but I must give a shout out to Rema Webb who has me captivated each time she is onstage. Her voice, her face - I can't stop watching her. I felt the same way when I saw her in Violet & A New Brain - what a talent!

Do yourself a favor and add this show to your list. You will NOT be disappointed. I left on such a high and felt as if I had just gone through a life-changing event...or back in my Southern Baptist Church.


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