Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Color Purple ****

I wasn't even tempted to see the 2005 production and would have skipped this one as well if not for the almost uniformly enthusiastic reviews. I have mixed feelings about John Doyle’s previous stripped-down versions of musicals, but this production, which originated at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, gets it right. By concentrating attention on the show’s talented performers and the lively gospel-inflected score, Doyle has come up with a production that packs an emotional wallop. The superb cast act and sing at a very high level. Tony winner Cynthia Erivo is riveting as Celie, from the abused pregnant 14-year-old to the middle-aged businesswoman she becomes. When she sang “I’m Here,” she brought the house to its feet. Just as good is Heather Headley, who replaced Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery, the sexy songstress that no-one can resist. Her version of “Push da Button” is a knockout. Their duet at end of the first act, “What about Love,” is breathtakingly beautiful. Danielle Brooks is a powerhouse as Sofia; her “Hell No!” is a highlight. Joaquina Kalukango impresses as Celie’s sister Nettie. Isaiah Johnson is a strong Mister and Kyle Scatliffe is amusing as his son Harpo. Marsha Norman’s book has a lot to cover in a short time, but mostly succeeds in capturing the essence of Alice Walker’s novel. Since I had never heard of any of the composer/lyricists — Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray — I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the score. Doyle’s set consists of a wall of rough planks hung with spindle-back chairs that are removed from the wall and used as needed. Except for a few large wicker baskets and some fabric, they are the only props. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes are appropriately drab in the first act and colorful in the second. Doyle was recently appointed artistic director at Classic Stage Company. After suffering through his version of “Peer Gynt” there recently, I had my doubts about the future of CSC. What he accomplished here gives me new hope. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes including intermission.

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