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The Color Purple
Based upon the Novel by Alice Walker and the Warner Bros./Amblin Entertainment Motion Picture
Book by Marsha Norman, Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee WIllis, and Stephen Bray
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown
Choreographed by Breon Arzell
The Muny
August 4, 2022

Tracee Beazer, Anastacia McCleskey
Photo by Julie A. Merkle
The Muny

The Muny is continuing it’s excellent 2022 season with a remarkable Muny debut production of The Color Purple. The musical, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated movie, is a sweeping, intensely emotional tale that features memorable characters and a strong musical score. At the Muny, with a top-notch cast led by a stunning leading performance, as well as stellar direction and production values, this show makes a lasting impression. 

The story, set in Georgia in the early-to-mid 20th Century, centers around Celie (Anastacia McCleskey), a young woman who is brought up by an abusive father, giving birth to two children as a a teenager and being forced to give them up. She then is essentially given by her father to Mister (Evan Tyrone Martin), a bitter widower who beats her, calls her ugly, and makes no secret of the fact that he would have preferred her sister, Nettie (Nasia Thomas), who is chased away by Mister after refusing his advances. Separated from the only person she knows who truly loves her, Celie lives a difficult life driven by fear; doing whatever Mister wants and enduring his wrath, until a series of influential people come into Celie’s life and encourage her to stand up for herself and discover the beauty she hasn’t been able to see. These people include the outspoken, strong-willed Sofia (Nicola Michelle Haskins), who marries Mister’s son Harpo (Gilbert Domally); and popular singer Shug Avery (Tracee Beazer), who has her own complicated history with Mister. Shug and Celie soon form a strong connection, and Celie also receives news that gives her hope of seeing her sister again. Nothing is simple or easy, as complications arise, people come in and out of Celie’s life, couples get together, break up, and sometimes reconcile, and Celie learns how to see and assert her own worth and value life beyond what has been dictated to her from childhood. 

This is a rich portrait of complex, well-drawn characters, and also of life situations affected by segregation and racist systems in the South in the first part of the 20th Century, as well as of the effects of authoritarianism and sexism. It’s a poignant, often intensely emotional story that requires a strong, talented cast, which this production clearly provides. Celie is a challenging character to play, requiring a strong sense of presence, a clear portrayal of the character’s vulnerability and inner strength, as well as a top-notch singing voice. At the Muny, McCleskey shines, displaying all those essential qualities and commanding the stage whenever she is on. She also has great chemistry with her equally strong co-stars, including the terrific Beazer as the worldly, outgoing Shug, Haskins in a memorable turn as the bold Sofia, and Thomas as the loyal, determined Nettie. Other standouts include Martin, ably portraying the complicated and contrasting aspects of Mister’s character; Domally, excellent as Harpo; and Erica Durham in a fun comic performance as aspiring singer and Harpo’s sometime-girlfriend Squeak. The standouts are supported by a stellar ensemble, as well, with excellent vocals and energetic movement to Breon Arzell’s dynamic choreography.  There’s also a great Muny orchestra led by music director Jermaine Hill. 

The production values here are, as usual for the Muny, excellent, and the overall design is in different ways both minimalist and expansive.  Arnel Sancianco’s unit set is fairly minimal, although it covers the huge Muny stage well, and serves as an ideal setting for the story, as Heather Gilbert’s detailed lighting design and Paul Deziel’s stunning video designs add atmosphere, texture, and specificity. There are also striking costumes by Samantha C. Jones that fit the characters well, adding to the vibrancy and emotion as the story unfolds. 

 Even if you haven’t seen The Color Purple before, or experienced this story in its other forms, this production is an ideal introduction to this sweeping, intense, and ultimately hopeful story. It’s a memorable exploration of character, family, and community, at times harrowing, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, centering around a tour-de-force central performance. It’s a modern classic story and musical, given a remarkable staging at the Muny.

Nicole Michelle Haskins, Gilbert Domally, Erica Durham and Cast of The Color Purple
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny is presenting The Color Purple in Forest Park until August 9, 2022

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The Color Purple
Book by Marsha Norman, Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee WIllis, and Stephen Bray
Based on the Novel by Alice Walker and the Warne Bros./Amblin Entertainment Motion Picture

Directed by John Doyle
The Fox Theatre
March 20, 2018

Adrianna Hicks and cast
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The Color Purple National Tour

The national tour of the revival of The Color Purple is currently playing at the Fox. Go see it! Based on a modern classic novel and featuring a superb cast and simple but stunning production values, this is a show that needs to be seen,

Based on the recent Broadway revival that originally got its start at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, this is something of a minimalist production, at least in terms of set and staging. Director John Doyle’s set is essentially three wooden slatted sections of wall, with a number of chairs suspended from them. Various chairs are also used throughout the production as suggestions of various locations, but there isn’t much else besides the walls and the chairs, and Jane Cox’s stunningly evocative lighting.  The minimalism, combined with Ann Hould-Ward’s remarkably detailed period costumes, actually adds to the overall atmosphere of the production, keeping the focus on the characters and their story and also highlighting the many transitions that happen for the characters.

The story, taking place in Georgia and covering several decades in the first half of the Twentieth Century, follows Celie (Adrianna Hicks), a young African-American woman who grows up abused by her father and bears two children by him by the time she is 14. With her children taken away from her and her beloved sister Nettie (N’Jameh Camara) being her only source of emtional support, Celie is eventually forced to marry a much older widower, Mister (Gavin Gregory), who already has children and mistreats Celie, who he views as “ugly”. Eventually, after Mister makes advances toward Nettie, Nettie leaves town and the sisters are separated. Celie, believing her sister to be dead, stays with her husband as he continues to mistreat her, although new figures appear and influence her life, most notably the strong-willed Sofia (played on opening night by Brit West), who marries Mister’s son Harpo (J. Daughtry), and especially the much talked-about Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart), a singer for whom Mister carries a torch and with whom Celie develops a close but complicated relationship. The whole plot is extremely involved, and I don’t want to give away too much, but if you’ve read the book or seen the movie, it seems to be a fairly faithful adapation, although necessarily condensed for time and dramatic purposes. Essentially, though, this story follows Celie through many difficult circumstances and relationships, eventually taking a more and more hopeful turn, with themes of independence and interdependence, as well as redemption and perseverence in trial, and also the trials inherent in living through the injustices of society and the systemic racism that pervaded society at the time.

Celie is a remarkable, complex character, growing and changing a great deal over the 40 year time period shown in the musical, and Hicks gives a truly stunning performance. Her process of maturity and eventual growth in confidence is readily evident in Hicks’s portrayal, reflected in her voice, movement and posture. She also has a great voice, commanding the stage with power throughout the show, and particularly in the show stopping “I’m Here”. The rest of the cast is excellent, as well, with Stewart making a strong impression as the charismatic Shug, West (the understudy) extremely impressive as the bold Sofia, Camara as the earnest, ambitious Nettie, and Gregory shining in the difficult role of Mister.  The whole ensemble is strong, with excellent ensemble chemistry and great singing across the board. The music is memorable, with the title song being a major standout, and the script is well-structured, managing to convey such a multi-faceted story in a clear, compelling and thoroughly engaging way.

Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the film adaptation, The Color Purple is a must-see. This is an especially strong production, with simple and highly effective production values highlighting the strengths of story and characters. It has drama, humor, authenticity, and a stunning score, sung by a first-rate cast. It’s a truly remarkable production.

Carla R. Stewart, Adrianna Hicks and Cast
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The Color Purple National Tour

 

The national tour of The Color Purple is running at the Fox Theatre until April 1, 2018.

 

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