In a season of plot lines that show the negative side of life, the new revival of The Color Purple at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre is full of hope and inspiration. I see Tony gold for this production. Hands down, this is my favorite show of the year.
The Color Purple, is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which became the 1985 Oscar nominated film with Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. In 2005 The Color Purple, landed on Broadway, but failed to find audience love. This revival will not suffer that fate. This production is set free, with minimal props and allows the glorious singing, acting and heart and soul of this piece to shine through. For two and a half hours, you are mesmerized by what you see on stage and by the end you cannot wait to get on your feet and applaud as loudly as you can. This show is infectious.
The show spans four decades of Celie’s (Cynthia Erivo) life in the South and the people who affect her life. From rape at the tender age of twelve by her father, to two pregnancy’s where she thinks her father has murdered her children, into the forced slavery of marriage to Mister (Isaiah Johnson), to her moment of breaking free and becoming independent, we follow this journey of triumph despite all odds. Celie’s love for her sister Nettie (Joaquina Kalukango), who she has taught how to read and write, becomes estranged after Nettie runs away and her letters are kept from Celie. But it is this love that sustains Celie.
Ironically the men of this time used the slavery once used on them to keep their women in line. Fathers, brothers and cousins, only saw women as objects to rape, work and take care of their every need. Few were truly loved. Celie, is considered ugly, which makes this torturous life even worse.
Here it is the people in Celie’s life that teach her what was never taught, courage, confidence and self-love. First is her stepson Harpo’s (Kyle Scatliffe), new wife, the larger than life Sofia (the magnificent Danielle Brooks). Sofia, too has been abused but Hell NO! she is not taking this anymore, that is until she upsets a white women.
In Mister’s ex lover Shug (Dreamgirls Jennifer Hudson), she learns love, as a lesbian affair takes place. Shug is a preacher’s daughter-turned-saloon singer, who sees the beauty in Celie. It is because of Shug that Celie finally learns her sister and the two babies she thought had been killed are alive.
This cast is sensational. There is not one weak link. Vocally this is spectacular despite music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray who created a score that doesn’t stay long in your mind. One of the biggest questions in my mind is who will win the nod for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical? Is it the full bodied and gripping performance of Danielle Brooks as Sophia or the elegant, superb performance of Jennifer Holiday as Shug. Both of these women have triumphant moments in the show. Make no mistake though Cynthia Erivo as Celie knocks this role out of the park. She is memorizing and exquisite to watch as she plays the gamut of emotions, ages and situations. We love her, feel her pain and cheer endlessly when she declares her stance of hope, faith and perseverance.
Marsha Norman’s script cuts to the bone, as John Doyle has created a piece of theater that will live in my memory for years.
My one negative comment is to the sound designer Gregory Clarke. Get yourself into the balcony because you can barely understand the dialogue, let alone the lyrics despite being in the first row. But despite this flaw this show is so moving that I wish tickets for the The Color Purple for all my women friends and the men who love them. This show is truly a blessing.
The Color Purple: Bernard Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th. St.