Rob Reviews "The Color Purple: The Musical"
Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” is recognized as one of the most powerful and influential stories published in contemporary history. Turned into a highly revered film by Stephen Spielberg and featuring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Rae Dawn Chong, and Oprah Winfrey, it was also brought to the stage by Winfrey. It would end up winning the Tony for Best Musical Revival down the road and is now touring the country with a stop at Dallas’ Music Hall at Fair Park though February 4th.
It is the story of Celie (Adrianna Hicks), a young African-American woman living in the South during the early part of the twentieth century. A slave to her own family, her father barters her to Mister (Gavin Gregory), who would rather have her sister, Nettie (N’Jameh Camara). Since he cannot have what he wants, he treats Celie like nothing short of a second-class citizen as she cares for his children and does all of the domestic work. As she wonders what has happened to her sister (she gets no correspondence from her), she also deals with the trials and tribulations of her own household, including another of Mister’s objects of affections in Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart).
Under normal circumstances, I am quick to tell people to do as little research or reading as possible before seeing the adaptation of any other medium. However, in this case, it is almost imperative to do so to keep up with what is going on here. With a very minimalist set that has no backdrop outside of three towers covered with wooden chairs, this is not a production that can be casually watched. The story itself is told at a fast pace that I felt even at times ventured into the abstract, which makes it even more difficult for the uninitiated to not only be able to understand what is going on but even to have any form of emotional investment in the characters and their struggles.
Luckily, this cast picks up some of the slack that exists within the staging of the story itself. Camara does a great job of carrying the load with Celie’s entire story arc with Gregory as the great protagonist and roadblock to her ultimate happiness. There is a very “Macbeth”-esque trio of ladies that help keep the story on the rails as well with both great presence and vocal harmonies played by Angela Birchett, Bianca Horn, and Brit West. The standout performance for me comes in the form of both Stewart, whose voice could fill the Grand Canyon with her power and control, as well as Carrie Compere playing Sophia, Mister’s sparky daughter-in-law as she runs the emotional gambit that had me laughing one minute and my soul breaking for her at the next. Even through a few technical glitches, this cast shines in a way that I can say that I have not seen in a long time when referring to a cast in its entirety.
With the very stacked lineup that the Dallas/Fort Worth area boasts in 2018, this is by no means a rough start for it. Quite the contrary; I truly enjoyed “The Color Purple,” but a certain level of that may be because I am familiar with the source material enough to be able to know where the story was at a given point. If you have not, I am not saying you need to burn through the book to have a great time at the theatre, but I am comfortable in putting forth that a viewing of the 1985 film would do you a little good beforehand.