*It did not matter that there were more famous names in the audience on opening night of The Color Purple at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood than there were on stage. The tour of the Tony-winning hit Broadway musical, based on the novel by Alice Walker and the movie of the same name, is without name recognition or elaborate scenery.
In fact, the scenery is nothing more than three wooden panels and some chairs. At first, I wondered how it would work, but it did not take long for me to stop focusing on the insignificant. My attention was quickly diverted to the actors and their ability to belt out songs like nobody’s business.
The musical, like the book and movie, tells the coming of age and the enlightenment of Celie (Adrianna Hicks), a young African American girl who had her two babies, both sired by her own father (J.D. Webster), stripped away from her and who was subsequently forced to marry Mister (Gavin Gregory), only to become nothing more than an abused servant and semen repository.
With the help of two strong women, Sophia (Carrie Compere) and Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart), Celie learns self-love, gains strength, finds self-esteem and becomes a woman who proclaims, “I’m Here!”
Celie took the scenic route “getting there.” Not only did she have her babies stripped away from her, after her sister Nettie (N’Jameh Camara) fought off Mister’s attempt to sexually assault her, Nettie was stripped away from Celie as well. Mister forbade them to see each other again. After Nettie’s escape, Celie’s existence was just that, existing; that is until she met Sophia and then Shug Avery, who stirred feelings in Celie that she didn’t know existed. Celie grew stronger because of her two allies and was able to come into her own and stand.
Although Alice Walker’s novel was written decades ago, in light of the current women’s empowerment movements, this musical is both timely and relevant. It speaks to sexual assault, oppression and domestic abuse, all issues at the forefront of the Time’s Up and #Metoo movements.
The musical follows the movie very closely; however, the scenes in the movie that were sad and tearful, did not translate to sadness in the musical. Setting the scenes to music, made things more upbeat. There were also parts when the audience could not help but laugh.
The women in this musical are powerful singers. They did an excellent job and stood out above the men, who although good, seemed like secondary cast members. There were lulls in the performance; however, for some reason, they mainly occurred when the men were on stage.
The songs, which includes blues, jazz and gospel and are courtesy of Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell and Allee Willis, are showstoppers, to say the least; especially Sophia’s “Hell No,” Shug’s “Push Da Button” and Celie’s “I’m Here,” which was the ultimate showstopper.
Did I mention there were celebrities in attendance? Lots of them. How about someone asked if Wanda Sykes was going to be there, as if I was supposed to know. Thanks to Linda Stewart, the shows publicist, who hooked me up, I guess I was standing too close to the red carpet and people must have thought I was part of the front row. LOL!
If you liked the movie, you should see the musical. If you did not like the movie, you should still see the musical, based on the strength of the music alone, which is some of the best you will hear on stage these days. The Color Purple will be performed at the Pantages until June 17. If you miss it at the Pantages,, there is still hope because the next Southern California stop is the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa from June 19 – 24.
Do not miss out!
Marilyn Smith is a Los Angeles based writer/reviewer. Contact her via [email protected]
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy