Hallelujah! The Color Purple, the new Broadway musical, is a joyous celebration of the human spirit. Culled from Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the impassioned tale is a shimmering mosaic that is more than a triumph in every way. Here is a reason to rejoice! The Color Purple is a serious musical graced with intelligence and humor that is destined to become a classic.
At the center of the story is Celie, a 12 year old poor black girl living in Georgia just after emancipation. We follow her 40 year journey to survive against what seem insurmountable odds, poverty as well as physical, mental and sexual abuse. Celie has been raped repeatedly by the man she believes to be her father (a cruel JC Montgomery). Two children, Olivia and Adam, who have been taken from her at birth, are the product of these rapes. At 14 she is made a young wife and given to Mister (a strong Kingsley Leggs), who continues to abuse her and works her like a horse. She is soon separated from her sister Nettie (a radiant Renee Elise Goldsberry), her sole source of love and support. We watch her evolution from passive illiterate to a confident loving woman of means.
As Celie, the star LaChanze delivers a galvanizing performance in the role she originated when The Color Purple premiered in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre. LaChanze, who made a memorable Broadway debut in Once on This Island and further cemented her reputation last season as the lead in the Lincoln Center production of Dessa Rose, absolutely soars as the embattled Celie. She creates a sympathetic affecting character that is utterly convincing and touchingly unforgettable. Her beautifully written solos, “Somebody Gonna Love You” and “I’m Here,” are splendid exultations of courage.
The book’s faithful adaptation by Marsha Norman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for ‘Night Mother, distills the many stories surrounding Celie in Ms. Walker’s epic novel to their essence, but adheres more closely to the source material than Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie. There is still the story of Mister’s son Harpo (an exceptional Brandon Victor Dixon) and his love for the headstrong Sofia (an awesome Felicia P. Fields). Ms. Fields with her amazing alto and Mr. Dixon give us the hilariously raunchy “Any Little Thing.”
There is also the tale of Nettie’s missionary work in Africa, where she finds Celie’s children, which is told through their letters. Now, however, there is an emphasis on Celie’s inspirational, yet sexually explicit lesbian love affair with the rebel blues singer Shug Avery (a magnificent and sexy Elisabeth Withers-Mendes). The result is an involving musical adventure that not only culminates with love and redemption, but also resonates with a core of forgiveness.
The gospel, blues, African and pop songs by the music veterans Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray are simply outstanding and beautifully orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick. They are soulful expressions that speed the story’s development, as well as allowing the show’s underlying message to become even more accessible. The dynamic opening number “Mysterious Ways” is a big gospel that cuts against the grain of the show’s bleak center to rejoice in the joy of being alive. The music never lets up, but doesn’t feel pushed. We get other stirring testaments like “Hell No,” “Push Da Button,” “What About Love?” and the big production number “African Homeland.”
The choreography by Donald Byrd is an effective blend of raw sexuality and a blissful good time. The dancers thrust themselves about the stage with a total commitment that is a delight to witness.
John Lee Beatty’s ingenious yet simplistic scenic design is dominated by a radiant sky that Brain MacDevitt’s lighting turns into an ever changing luminous feast.
Commenting on the action throughout the evening are three gossipy women of the church, who function as sort of a Greek chorus and provide comic relief. They are the
wonderfully amusing Kimberly Ann Harris,Virginia Ann Woodruff, and Maia Nkenge Wilson.
Making an impressive Broadway debut director Gary Griffin has turned The Color Purple into a glorious rarity, a pure life affirming entertainment that is a thrill to behold.
gordin & christiano
The Color Purple opened on the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street, on December 1, 2005. Order tickets online HYPERLINK "http://www.Telecharge.com" www.Telecharge.com / 212-239-6200 or at the box office.
Originally Published in Dan's Papers